Happier, healthy Buehler returns after nearly 2 years

Right-hander makes first start since 2022 after undergoing second Tommy John surgery

May 7th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- A lot has changed for in the last 22 months.

Nearly two years ago, Buehler was the ace of the Dodgers’ staff and one of the best pitchers in the National League. But despite all that success, Buehler described himself as “angry all the time.”

Since then, Buehler has undergone a second Tommy John surgery, preventing him from doing what he loves most. He also welcomed his first child and has now been married for a few years.

The perspective Buehler gained through this lengthy journey has changed him forever. He now describes himself as a much happier person. With time, he believes he’ll once again be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.

On Monday, Buehler was all smiles as he made his first appearance in the Majors since June 10, 2022, allowing three runs on six hits and striking out four over four innings in the Dodgers’ 6-3 win over the Marlins at Dodger Stadium. For the first time in a long time, the Dodgers could finally say Walker Buehler was back.

“Walking in from the bullpen was one of the cooler probably moments of my career, just the wave of people,” Buehler said. “It’s meant a lot to my family and me to play here and be a part of the success of this organization. And so to come back and kinda have that feeling is pretty cool.”

Before Buehler’s season debut, manager Dave Roberts did his best to temper expectations with the right-hander’s velocity. He wasn’t expecting the same high-octane velocity Buehler had before another significant elbow surgery.

Buehler, however, had other plans.

With some expected adrenaline and some nerves, Buehler’s four-seam fastball was sitting at 96 mph from the start of the game, getting up to as high as 97.6 mph. When Buehler turned around and saw his velocity in the first inning, it reminded him that his stuff still plays at a high level in the Majors -- and that the elbow is just fine.

“I didn’t think there was 98 in there still or 97 or whatever it was,” Buehler said. “But I think that helps. The adrenaline of being back -- normally, I try and temper that, and I’ve been somewhat concerned about the velocity a little bit. So you kind of try and ride it and see what’s in there.”

Buehler feeding off the energy of his return was expected, but so was some rust. Despite the uptick in velocity, the Marlins were able to jump on Buehler’s fastball early, taking the lead just two batters into the game. Miami tacked on a second run in the first inning and Nick Gordon hit a solo homer in the second for three runs against Buehler in the first two frames.

Once things got a little more routine, Buehler was able to settle down, tossing two scoreless innings. He had a lot of success with his cutter, which he threw 23 times. He also threw the sinker, knuckle curve, slider and changeup. In the end, Buehler needed 77 (49 for strikes) to get through four innings.

“It was great to see him back on the mound, pitching for us in the big leagues,” said Dodgers catcher Will Smith. “It took him a couple innings to settle in, then two zeros in the third and fourth. I’m just happy he’s back and looking forward to the next one.”

One thing that has remained the same is Buehler’s ultracompetitiveness. After talking about his excitement of being back on the mound, Buehler went through a long list of things he could have done better.

Expecting Buehler to return and immediately be the same quality pitcher would be unfair. It takes time for pitchers to get back to form after the first Tommy John surgery, and it only gets more challenging coming off a second one. But even if the results weren’t spectacular, getting Buehler back in the rotation is a significant addition to the Dodgers.

“When we put together this roster and his anticipation, he was right there in the center of it,” Roberts said. “So getting a staple part of the rotation with his track record, the compete, having him as an active player in the dugout, being an active member of the team, that’s impactful.”

“That stuff is still electric,” said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman. “It’s nice to see No. 21 on the mound again.”

Right now, neither the Dodgers nor Buehler are concerned about what this return means for October. It’s all about giving Buehler time to get better after one of the recovery-intensive surgeries in the sport.

And the buzz around Dodger Stadium that comes with a Buehler start was back on Monday -- something the Dodgers have missed for quite some time.

“I think the ceremony of it is done,” Buehler said. “Now, I can kind of focus on trying to be good and helping our team. I wish it would’ve gone better. I wish I would’ve thrown five or six shutout innings and whatever. But it's one, and I’m happy to be back.”