Injured right-hander, Walker Buehler, is making big strides in his return from reconstructive surgery on his pitching elbow. The two time All-Star got off the mound in the bullpen at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and had the attention of a lot of interested folks. He’s still not close to throwing at max effort, but he’s still getting lazy fastballs up to 89 miles per hour off the mound.
In a chat with reporters after his session, a bulked-up Buehler threw a curveball of a statement into the huddle. He wants to return to the active roster by September 1. It turned some heads, to say the least.
“September 1 is still the goal for me but I want to come up at a certain pitch count to where me being here is not a hindrance.”
Considering he underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career on August 22nd, 2022, that would be just a hair over 12 months for his return, something he said he’s comfortable doing. His goal is also to return as a starter
“I don’t think anything has happened that would tell me that’s not an achievable goal. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of talented players and a really good team and I’m going to try to contribute any way I can. But, for me, being a starting pitcher is my goal and the way that I think I can provide the most value so hopefully everything’s good and my stuff’s good and I can get people out again then hopefully I can make some starts.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was only hearing about Walker’s timeline for the first time after reporters told him.
“I think September 1 is pretty aggressive,” Roberts said, “today was a good day and we’ll see how Walker progresses. Nine months seems pretty aggressive. It’s hard to bet against this guy, but 9/1 is not what I was hearing. I’m happy he feels that way, that’s a good thing.”
Walker estimates he’s three weeks away from throwing with a bit more intensity which would include actually pitching “downhill” to a catcher down in a squat. He said trainers actually want him to dial back how hard he’s throwing now but “that’s not how I operate.” He would still need to incorporate breaking pitches and build up his pitch count, but the confidence, as always, never wavers for Walker Buehler.
Twelve months for a starting pitcher is certainly bold — especially one recovering from his second Tommy John surgery — but Buehler sees that as a positive. He knows what to expect.
“I think the first one went really good, so my expectation is that this one will too. … there’s ups and down to it and having been through it before those aren’t as scary. The ‘oh my god did I just blow it again?’ thing isn’t really a fear anymore.”
September 1 is a goal but it’s far from certain. But if he is an option, the team would absolutely need to consider it carefully. The 2024 version of Walker Buehler is more important than the 2023 version. But knowing what kind of weapon he’s been for this team in Octobers past absolutely makes it that much more tantalizing of a lever to pull, if we get there.
“There’s definitely some exciting parts about playing at the end of this year and that’s something I really want to do but if I’m not good enough or not healthy enough, I don’t think we’re going to try to jam a square peg into a round hole.”