Dustin May was in the early goings of a breakout season, but that will all have to be put on hold as the Dodgers’ young star is set to undergo Tommy John surgery that will end his 2021 season. The surgery will be performed in Los Angeles on May 11 by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
“You never want to lose anyone for the season, certainly not a player like Dustin, who was taking the ball every fifth day and logging valuable innings,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I feel for him, most important, but for our ballclub, it’s a big blow. But we have a lot of talented players and we just have to find a way to fill that void.”
May was placed on the injured list after leaving early during Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Brewers. He was in apparent pain the moment he let go of a pitch, immediately signaling for the athletic trainer. Roberts said May described it as a “shooting sensation” in the right-hander’s pitching elbow.
Usually, teams and players take some time to make a decision on Tommy John surgery, but the Dodgers and May decided on it quickly, likely being the biggest indicator of how significant the tear was. With a successful surgery and recovery, May could be available for the last couple of weeks of the ‘22 season, at the earliest.
“Obviously he was a big part of our rotation and he was getting better every time he took the mound,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. “That’s a significant loss for us, that’s a significant arm that we’ve relied on and we were planning on relying on. Just feel terrible for Dustin and obviously it’s not something anyone wants to go through or experience.”
May, who finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year voting last fall, has pitched in parts of the past three seasons. He went 1-1 with a 2.74 ERA in five starts this season and was showing signs of why he was one of the top-rated prospects during his time in the Minor Leagues.
After finishing with just a 19.6 strikeout percentage last season, May saw a huge increase in punchouts in 2021. He had 44 strikeouts in 56 innings in ‘20, but he was already at 35 in 23 innings of work this season. He had a new grip on his curveball and was starting to throw his triple-digit four-seam fastball up in the zone to pair with a power sinker. Everything was working for May, and that’s why he was given the fifth starter job out of Spring Training ahead of Tony Gonsolin and David Price.
“When you’re developing and now you get the year cut short, that impacts development,” Roberts said. “What Dustin has done is he’s just matured more as a Major League ballplayer. His work in between starts has been way more focused, way more consistent, there’s a routine in there, and he’s been pitching really well. To not be able to build on that is really unfortunate.”
The Dodgers came into the season with a surplus of starting pitchers, but just one month into the season, they’re not looking for ways to fill in the gaps with their rotation. Gonsolin has been sidelined since the beginning of the season and will be built up as a starter, which will take at least three weeks. Price is also on the IL with a hamstring injury and will be out for weeks. Top pitching prospect Josiah Gray hasn’t pitched in a competitive game in over a year, so he might not be an option anytime soon.
With several off-days over the next 10 days, the Dodgers could get by with four starting pitchers. That could, however, be impacted by Monday’s rainout in Chicago, which will be followed by a split doubleheader on Tuesday.
Another option? Having Trevor Bauer pitch every four days, which is an idea the right-hander has been vocal about for several years.
“We’ve thought about it, yeah. There’s a scenario that it could happen,” Roberts said. “I think we do a good job of listening to the player, as well, if they have some sort of track record or experience -- which Trevor does. We’re going to talk through it. Once we deal with this weather, the games and what days we play or don’t play, we’ll have a little bit more clarity on that.
The Dodgers hope to receive positive injury news on Tuesday, as right-hander Brusdar Graterol will undergo an MRI on his right forearm. Graterol was placed on the injured list with right forearm tightness on April 29. That’s a designation that causes a lot of concern, especially given Graterol’s injury history.
“Right now, he hasn’t picked up a baseball and he’s kind of getting treatment,” Roberts said. “With three days of not throwing, I think there’s some improvement. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
Graterol has struggled in his two appearances this season, posting a 20.25 ERA over 1 1/3 innings.
The Dodgers claimed right-hander Phil Bickford from waivers on Monday and designated left-hander Mike Kickham for assignment. Bickford, 25, has made two big league appearances, allowing six runs over two innings.