Walker Buehler undergoes elbow surgery at the end of the season

The Dodgers announced on Monday that right-handed Walker Buehler will undergo season-end surgery on his right elbow on August 23. He has been out since June 10 after being diagnosed with a grade 2 flexor strain. Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic tweets Buehler’s recent MRIs weren’t conclusive enough to determine the extent of the damage in his elbow, but Dr. Neal ElAttrache saw enough to recommend surgery. Presumably, the Dodgers will provide more details once the proceedings are completed.

That injury initially required a six- to eight-week hiatus from pitching, and the Dodgers certainly hoped Buehler could make a comeback in late September and/or maybe in the postseason. Instead, he won’t pitch again until next season at the earliest. Further details are not clear as the team declined to provide details about the nature of the proceedings in the initial announcement.

Buehler, 28, finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting last season, but has had multiple arm problems this season. Once it was clear that Buehler would be sidelined for three months by the forearm strain, he underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove a bone spur from his elbow — a problem that he says had plagued him for the past few seasons.

The arm issue(s) limited Buehler to 65 innings in 2022, during which time he racked up a 4.02 ERA with a career-low hit rate of 21.2%. They’re pedestrian numbers by his lofty standards – both roughly in line with league average production among MLB starting pitchers (4.09 ERA, 21.4% strikeout rate).

Dating back to his first full season in the big league, in 2018, Buehler has established himself as a rock in the Dodgers’ rotation and one of the most talented arms in the National League. He ranks 23rd in the Majors in innings pitched from 2018-22 – even with this year’s plethora of missed time – and is also seventh in ERA (2.95), 25th in strikeout percentage (27 %) and 32nd in running speed (6.2%) amid a field of 152 qualified starting pitchers at the time.

For now, Buehler joins both Clayton Kershaw (discomfort in the lower back) and Dustin May (recovering from Tommy John surgery 2021) on the injured list. Both May and Kershaw expect to return before the end of the regular season. May recently struckout 10 batters in five innings in his fifth Triple-A start of the season. He has built up to 70 places. Kershaw, meanwhile, recently had an epidural injection and has resumed throwing, although there is no immediate timetable for him to return to the major league mound.

With that trio on the shelf, the Dodgers will be looking at… Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney and rookie Ryan Pepiot as rotational options – although Pepiot could be ousted soon in May. Even without some big names like Kershaw and Buehler, it’s a formidable group thanks to the breakout performances of each of Gonsolin (2.24 ERA, 116 1/3 innings pitched), Anderson (2.81 ERA, 128 1/3 innings) and Heaney (1.16 ERA, 32.3% strikeout percentage in 31 innings).

Clearly it’s incapable of putting Buehler in a hopeful post-season rotation, but the group of Urias, Gonsolin and Kershaw is still a formidable top three, with May, Anderson and Heaney all also potential playoffs. starters. The broader question for the Dodgers is what Buehler’s recovery and outlook for 2023 will be.

Even in the event that Buehler needed surgery from Tommy John and missed most of the 2023 season – which, to be clear, has not been indicated or even implied by the team – he would still be locked out. are that should be tendered a contract. The 2022 campaign was the second of a two-year $8 million deal that bought out Buehler’s first two arbitration years. He qualifies as a Super Two player four times, meaning he still has two raises to go. Due to this year’s limited workload, he will only have to pay a modest increase in his salary of $4.25MM, making it a no-brainer for the Dodgers to keep him in the fold.

That said, the extent of Buehler’s recovery period will certainly influence the Dodgers’ offseason direction and determine the level of aggression with which they pursue rotational assistance. The Dodgers currently see Kershaw, Anderson and Heaney all potentially running as free agents, so they will definitely be in the mix to start pitching this off-season.

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