Buehler undergoes second Tommy John surgery

August 24th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- The worst came to pass for right-hander , who on Tuesday underwent a second Tommy John surgery, as well as a flexor tendon repair, in his right arm.

Due to unclear MRI imaging, the Dodgers had been uncertain as to whether Dr. Neal ElAttrache -- the surgeon who performed Tommy John on Buehler shortly after he was drafted in 2015 -- would have to repair the UCL again. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman had said it would be the “worst-case scenario” for Buehler.

The silver lining for Buehler and the Dodgers is that Tuesday’s procedure was deemed successful, and that much of the soft tissue around the ligament was in good shape. The flexor tendon surgery will also not lengthen the recovery process.

“From the sounds of it, it went as well as could possibly be expected,” said Freidman. “In talking to Dr. ElAttrache earlier, he felt really confident about it. He felt like he went in and got it back in good order. And so now, we just go into the progression part of it, and hopefully get [Buehler] back as soon as possible. But there's no sugarcoating it, it’s a tough blow.”

It is difficult to predict how long it might be until Buehler returns to Major League action. Whereas recovery time from a first Tommy John surgery typically takes around a year, it often takes longer with a second operation. However, there is also much more greater variance, with factors such as surgical technique and the patient’s diligence in the rehab process coming into play.

Friedman wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Buehler being able to come back late next season, saying that the club would learn more as the pitcher progresses in his recovery.

“We know that Walker’s going to do everything in his power to get back and be really smart about it,” said Friedman. “We watched him attack the process in 2015. So we feel good about it, for whenever he's able, that he’ll step right back in and contribute.”

A two-time All-Star with a career 2.90 ERA entering this season, Buehler’s numbers in 2022 hadn’t been in line with the rest of his time in the Majors. There were flashes of brilliance -- such as his 10-strikeout shutout vs. the D-backs on April 25 -- but overall, Buehler took a step back with a 4.02 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 103 OPS+ through 12 starts before he was shut down.

It’s fair to assume the elbow issues affected his performance.

“I'm sure it had some impact,” said manager Dave Roberts. “The velocity was down a tick. As far as the slider, it wasn't as sharp. … Was that because the ligament in the elbow? Possibly, I just don't know.”

Although the Dodgers have known since Aug. 15 that Buehler’s season would be ended by surgery, they now have to consider how the loss of Buehler for most if not all of the 2023 season will affect their offseason plans. The team already has a number of questions looming regarding next year’s starting rotation, with three key pieces -- Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney -- set to hit free agency.

“So much of our focus right now is on finishing strong, and really getting a sense for how we're going to configure things, hopefully, going into October,” said Friedman. “But there's no question, it's something we're going to have to address when we get to the offseason.”

Buehler, meanwhile, will be a free agent following the 2024 season, giving him at least one more season in L.A. pending a successful recovery. Buehler will turn 30 in July of the '24 season.

In the meantime, his teammates will miss his fire and competitiveness.

“He was top five in Cy Young Award votes last year,” said Dodgers catcher Will Smith. “He’s been a hell of a pitcher in the postseason the last several years. So yeah, it's a blow. I know he wasn't having his best year performance-wise, but, you know, he’s still Walker Buehler. He's going to go out there every night and give us a quality start, give it his all.”