'Smoother and better' Buehler gearing up for healthy '24

February 10th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers have dominated the Hot Stove over the past few months. They signed Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto to historic contracts. Tyler Glasnow came over to Los Angeles via trade. And the finishing touches were put earlier this week by re-signing Clayton Kershaw.

Through all the hype of the players brought in via free agency or trade, star players like have often flown under the radar when the entirety of the roster is discussed. But for Los Angeles to be at its best this season, Buehler will have to be in the thick of it.

“He was our guy, and he has pitched big in big games,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "Yeah, there were some other names we talked about this winter that we acquired, so certainly there’s a personal expectation, and you want to be the guy. Walker wants to be the guy, for sure.”

Before Buehler's second Tommy John surgery, a lot of the Dodgers’ hopes of winning a World Series were reliant on his right arm. He was the team’s Opening Day starter in 2022 and often kept Los Angeles’ chances alive with big postseason performances.

As he enters his age-29 season after undergoing a pair of major right elbow surgeries, things might look a little bit differently for Buehler. He came into camp with some added weight. He’ll also start the season on the injured list with no real timetable for a return as the Dodgers continue to be cautious with his workload.

Buehler still has to do a little tinkering to maximize performance while staying out on the field. But despite some of those changes, he still believes the best is still ahead, and that he can still be the level of pitcher the Dodgers have come to expect.

“I don’t really think I have much doubt about my abilities if I’m healthy to go and get people out,” Buehler said. “I think getting out there is the biggest thing, and I was close to doing it last year, and it just didn’t work out.

“People don’t really understand. You can come back from Tommy John in 12 or 14 months, but I think it’s not really there until 18, 24 months. I experienced that with my first one, and this one is no different in that once I started playing catch again, I felt way better and just smoother and better.”

The goal for Buehler this spring is to stay healthy and get back to what made him one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2021. In his lone rehab appearance with Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, Buehler sat at 96 mph with his four-seam fastball.

Throughout the offseason, Buehler said he’s been around 92-94 mph during bullpens. He threw his first official bullpen of the spring on Friday, one that “wasn’t as good” as some of the others Roberts has seen in past weeks. Those ups and downs are part of the process, but all the Dodgers will care about is having Buehler healthy and contributing by the time the postseason rolls around.

“I had a good offseason and put in a lot of work, and my arm feels good,” Buehler said. “I'm just trying to take today toward whenever I'm going to actually pitch and figure out the best way to build up.”

Paxton ready for first spring with Dodgers
Veteran left-hander had a few options in free agency, but he ultimately chose the Dodgers to pursue a World Series title in Los Angeles.

The 35-year-old has made just 25 starts since 2019, including 19 last season with the Red Sox. Paxton has had a long list of injuries, which was a concern for the Dodgers as he went through his physical. In the end, both sides were able to come together on an agreement.

“Last year was really important for me to get back out there and be healthy and get a good chunk of things under my belt,” Paxton said. “I feel like I showed myself that I still had it. So that was encouraging, built some confidence and really got me ready for this year.”

For the first time in years, Paxton was able to enjoy an offseason that didn’t involve rehab. Even with some concern over a right knee injury that ended his 2023 season early, Paxton said he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

“No doubt,” he said. “I’m feeling really good right now, and I’m gonna keep on building and getting ready. I’ll be ready for day one.”