SAN FRANCISCO — In just about every way, the Dodgers were outplayed by the Giants in Friday night’s 7-2 loss at Oracle Park. But even after Chris Taylor lashed out to end the game, the loss to their divisional rivals was not a glaring one for Los Angeles.
All post-game attention was focused on Walker Buehler, who left his start with right elbow discomfort after throwing only 70 pitches in four innings. Neither Buehler nor manager Dave Roberts wanted to speculate on the seriousness of the injury until the right-hander is further tested on Saturday. But both acknowledged that there is always a great deal of concern when it comes to an elbow injury.
“I had Tommy John surgery so I guess” [the level of concern] is a little elevated,” Buehler said. “It is what it is. That happens in this game. A lot of guys in this clubhouse have taken things with their elbows. It’s part of this game. I have every confidence in our medical staff and stuff. But before we get into that a little bit diving in, we need to know what we are dealing with.”
Two months after being pulled from Vanderbilt by the Dodgers in the first round (24th pick overall) of the 2015 Draft, Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery.
He said he had occasional right elbow pain over the years, and on Friday he first noticed something 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 chose to end his start before the injury got worse.
“Certain discomforts that you can get through, which this one this evening clearly felt could be more damaging,” Roberts said. “I think that’s more – you definitely have to be a player with Walker’s intelligence and know his body.”
Before Buehler’s injury forced him out of the game, he said he was starting to get a better feel for his pitches and command than he’s had this season so far. Buehler gave up three runs in four innings, but the pace on his four-seamer was 0.7 mph above his season average and his cutter/slider combination kept the batters off balance. The Giants batters had 11 tricks against him in only four innings.
“I didn’t throw the ball great, but I felt a lot better than before and was a bit encouraged by the way the ball came out of my hand, even though I gave up a few runs in the second,” said Bühler. “But it is what it is.”
Saturday’s tests will give the Dodgers a better indication of how much time Buehler could spare. The Dodgers have faced multiple starter injuries this season as Andrew Heaney is currently on the injured list with a left shoulder injury and Clayton Kershaw returns on Saturday after missing a month with a back injury.
The Dodgers endured those injuries and still top 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 the worst of all Dodgers starters.
During his struggles this season, Buehler’s bullpen sessions between starts have become a must for a handful of Dodgers staffers. This week in Chicago, Roberts, pitching coach Mark Prior and even other members of the starting staff watched closely as Buehler progressed through his session.
The reason a large crowd followed Buehler into his bullpens is because the Dodgers understood they needed him to get back on track to reach their goals in 2022. Buehler was their best pitcher in ’21. But he rejected the idea that this injury is why he has struggled thus far.
For the Dodgers to win a championship, they need Buehler at his best. Now the Dodgers are hoping for some good news about injuries to their ace, or else their championship aspirations could take a major blow.
“I don’t know what’s going on yet,” Buehler said. “But before we dive right in, I think I’d like to know what I’m actually doing with my elbow and my career.”