SAN FRANCISCO -- In just about every way, the Dodgers got outplayed by the Giants during the 7-2 loss on Friday night at Oracle Park. But even after Chris Taylor struck out to end the game, the loss to their division rivals wasn’t front of mind for Los Angeles.
All the attention after the game was on Walker Buehler, who exited his start with right elbow discomfort after throwing just 70 pitches over four innings. Neither Buehler nor manager Dave Roberts wanted to speculate on the severity of the injury until the right-hander undergoes further testing on Saturday. But both acknowledged that there’s always a high level of concern when talking about an elbow injury.
“I’ve had Tommy John surgery, so I think [the level of concern] is a little bit heightened,” Buehler said. “It is what it is. That happens in this game. A lot of guys in this clubhouse have dealt with stuff with their elbows. It’s part of this game. I have all the faith in our medical staff and whatnot. But before we kind of dive into that, we need to know what we’re dealing with.”
Two months after being drafted out of Vanderbilt by the Dodgers in the first round (24th pick overall) of the 2015 Draft, Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery.
He said he has dealt with occasional discomfort in his right elbow over the years, and on Friday first noticed something was bothering him after throwing a breaking ball in the third inning. He got through that frame and came back out and completed the fourth. But after showing noticeable discomfort, the Dodgers and Buehler elected to end his start before the injury worsened.
“Certain discomforts you can manage through, where this one tonight, clearly he felt that any more could potentially be damaging,” said Roberts. “I think that’s more -- you have to default to, certainly, a player with Walker’s intelligence and knowing his body.”
Before Buehler’s injury forced him to come out of the game, he said he was starting to find a better feel for his pitches and command than he’s had so far this season. Buehler allowed three runs over four innings, but the velocity on his four-seamer was 0.7 mph higher than his season average and his cutter/slider combination was keeping hitters off balance. Giants hitters had 11 whiffs against him in just four innings.
“I didn’t throw the ball great, but I felt a lot better than I have previously and was kind of encouraged with the way the ball was coming out of my hand, even though I gave up a couple runs there in the second,” Buehler said. “But it is what it is.”
Saturday’s tests will give the Dodgers a better indication of how much time Buehler might miss. The Dodgers have dealt with multiple injuries to starters this season as Andrew Heaney is currently on the injured list with a left shoulder injury and Clayton Kershaw is set to return on Saturday after missing a month with a back injury.
The Dodgers have weathered those injuries and still sit atop the National League West with a 37-21 record. But Buehler’s importance to the Dodgers’ rotation cannot be overstated, even if his 4.02 ERA is worst among all Dodgers starters.
During his struggles this season, Buehler’s bullpen sessions between starts have become must-attend events for a handful of Dodgers staffers. Just this week in Chicago, Roberts, pitching coach Mark Prior and even other members of the starting staff watched closely as Buehler went through his session.
The reason a large crowd followed Buehler into his bullpens is because the Dodgers understood they need him to get back on track in order for them to accomplish their goals in 2022. Buehler was their best pitcher in ’21. But he declined the notion that this injury is why he has struggled so far.
In order for the Dodgers to win a championship, they need Buehler at his best. Now, the Dodgers are just hoping for good injury news regarding their ace or their championship aspirations could take a significant hit.
“I don’t know what’s going on yet,” Buehler said. “But I think before we dive into it at all, I’d like to know what I’m actually doing with my elbow and my career.”