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What the Dodgers got back in Dustin May

MLB: Miami Marlins at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not fair to put the weight of the Dodgers postseason expectations on Dustin May’s shoulders, not so soon after returning from nearly 16 months away, time robbed by Tommy John surgery. But it’s impossible not to get excited after watching May’s triumphant first start back.

Saturday was May’s 20th career major league start in the regular season. This wasn’t like getting Walker Buehler back, someone with an established track record, or even Clayton Kershaw. But with Buehler out for the year and Kershaw still out — though Kershaw’s return could be afoot in September — getting May back was exciting all the same.

Before he got hurt last season, it looked like May turned a corner from his already successful 2020 campaign. He was pretty dominant in his four starts, with a 2.53 ERA and 37-percent strikeout rate. Then he got hurt in his fifth start, kicking off 475 days of rehab before Saturday’s return.

That brief glimpse — only 23 innings — was exciting enough to wonder what May could be, and frustrating enough that we’d have to wait so long to see it.

Sometimes we spend so much time looking ahead to what someone might become that we miss the present. Julio Urías is a prime example of this, with years of “he’s so young” and kid-glove treatment. This is the seventh major league season for Urías, who is still among the youngest quarter of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster. Urías has morphed into a rotation-fronting workhorse the last two seasons, but he was also quite good in the years that led up to it, including a major surgery that knocked out a year and a half.

The future for May is similarly bright, but so is the present.

That was on display Saturday night. On a Dodgers team that has allowed fewer runs than anyone in MLB, a team on pace for 113 wins, May still stands out. Quite simply, he has holy crap stuff.

We know the Dodgers are high on May, because of how they acted at the trade deadline. They not only didn’t add a starting pitcher, but they traded one away, sending sixth-starter Mitch White to Toronto.

It was a bet on May, the first one back from a group of injured pitchers who will not only help down the stretch, but will be used in October, in some fashion.

May was successful as a starter as a rookie in 2020, but was used as a short-burst pitcher in the postseason, never pitching longer than two innings. It was both a testament to the Dodgers’ depth and the desire to use May more than once every four or five games. He pitched in seven of their 18 postseason games.

There’s a long way between now and the 2022 postseason, with several things to be sorted out before wondering what role the Dodgers use May in October. But the stuff plays, and then some, and it’ll be exciting, no matter when he pitches.