There is no good elbow surgery for an MLB pitcher to undergo, but Los Angeles Dodgers fans had to be hoping it wouldn't be another Tommy John surgery for Walker Buehler.
The Dodgers' two-time All-Star and postseason ace was announced to need season-ending elbow surgery last week, but he revealed the day of the procedure that it was indeed another UCL reconstruction (a.k.a. Tommy John surgery).
High-profile sports surgeon and Dodgers physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who did Buehler's first Tommy John surgery, performed the procedure. Buehler also underwent a flexor tendon repair, per the Dodgers.
Brutal news for Walker Buehler and the Dodgers
The Dodgers had hoped the two-time All-Star could return to the rotation before the end of the regular season after a right elbow strain sidelined him in June. The end of his season marks a tough blow as they seek their second World Series title in three years.
Even more concerning should be Buehler's future heading into 2023. Pitchers are often able to return from Tommy John surgery in about a year with little to no diminishing of their stuff, but this was Buehler's second Tommy John, as he underwent the procedure soon after the Dodgers drafted him out of Vanderbilt in 2015.
A second Tommy John typically requires an even longer rehab than the first one requires, so it would be a surprise if Buehler throws an inning next year. It can take even longer for a pitcher to get back to 100 percent, if it ever happens.
Buehler is under team control with the Dodgers until after the 2024 season.
The Dodgers shut Buehler down on June 11 after an MRI revealed the Grade 2 flexor strain. The initial plan that didn't include surgery was for Buehler to rest and rehabilitate the injury without picking up a baseball for 6-8 weeks. He ended up opting for surgery on June 14 to remove bone spurs from the injured elbow, but that obviously wasn't enough to make things right.
Buehler, 28, made his second All-Star team last season and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting after posting a 2.47 ERA, 0.968 WHIP and 16-4 record while recording 212 strikeouts and 52 walks in 207.2 innings pitched.
Prior to being sidelined, Buehler saw his 2022 performance decline with a career-worst 4.02 ERA and 1.292 WHIP. Previously, Buehler had never posted an ERA above 3.44 in five seasons in the Dodgers rotation — and that number came in just 36.2 innings of the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign.
Dodgers juggling pitcher injuries
The Dodgers are also playing without nine-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who's been on the 15-day injured list since Aug. 4 with lower back pain. Kershaw threw a three-inning simulated game on Monday and could return as early as the end of the month.
The good news for the Dodgers is the return of Dustin May, who had been sidelined all season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
After five rehab starts, May took the mound on Saturday and dominated the Miami Marlins, striking nine in five scoreless innings and now allowing a hit after the first batter. With Buehler out for the foreseeable future, May's upside makes him a massively important figure for the Dodgers.
Injuries haven't been kind to the Dodgers' bullpen either, as the team is still without Blake Treinen, Yency Almonte, Danny Duffy, Tommy Kahnle, Victor Gonzalez, Jimmy Nelson and Daniel Hudson. All but Hudson and Nelson have a shot at returning this year, and the Dodgers also got Brusdar Graterol back on Monday.