This really was a brutal and literally painful year for Dodgers starting pitchers. Three of the five members of the planned opening day rotation had surgery that will knock them out for all or part of 2024 as well. Dustin May was the first to fall, and perhaps the most heartbreaking of the group.
May already had Tommy John surgery that wiped out most of his 2021 and 2022 seasons. He found his way back to the mound for six uneven starts last year, but optimism abounded coming into this year after May’s first relatively normal offseason in two years.
He got results right out of the gate in 2023, allowing two or fewer runs in seven of his first eight starts. He wasn’t really striking anyone out, though his 18.2-percent strikeout rate was in line with his 20.8-percent rate for his first two seasons (2019-20). May did a good job at avoiding barrels, and only allowed one home run.
Through those first eight outings May averaged 5.88 innings per start, which ranked second on the team behind only Clayton Kershaw (5.96).
“Going through that rehab process, there’s a maturity that has to happen. That’s one component,” manager Dave Roberts said of May in April. “I think the delivery is as consistent as I’ve ever seen it.”
Things came crashing to a halt for May on the 17th day of the month that bears his name. He struck out two in a scoreless first inning against the Twins in a Wednesday day game at Dodger Stadium, but he did not go out for a second inning. His elbow was injured yet again, just 15 starts after returning from Tommy John surgery.
May was diagnosed with a flexor pronator strain, and opted for an injection of platelet-rich plasma into his elbow in hopes of avoiding surgery. But his elbow didn’t respond, so May had surgery to repair his flexor tendon on July 18.
If there was any silver lining, it was that May did not require a second Tommy John surgery, though if he did he could have consulted teammates Daniel Hudson or Walker Buehler for rehab tips. But part of May’s procedure did include a revision of his of his Tommy John surgery because of a UCL sprain.
All told, May isn’t expected back until midseason 2024 at the absolute earliest.
When May was moved to the 60-day injured list, it was to create roster space for Bobby Miller’s major league debut. This could be viewed as a passing of the torch of sorts, except that May is only a year and a half older than Miller, and still only 26 years old.
It just seems like May is older than he’s already pitched in parts of five major league seasons. After debuting in a swingman role for the final two months in 2019, none of May’s seasons have been normal. His rookie season was shortened by a pandemic, and each of his last three campaigns were cut short by elbow surgeries.
May’s career high for both starts (10), innings (56), and strikeouts (44) all came in the 60-game 2020 season.
There’s still potentially a bright future on the mound for May, but he’ll need to stay on the mound in order to realize it.
Stats: 9 starts, 2.63 ERA, 3.40 xERA, 3.24 FIP, 4-1, 48 IP, 34 K, 16 BB, 1.5 bWAR, 1.2 fWAR
Salary: $1.675 million
Game of the year
May’s first start of the season was his best, and fueled excitement that he was truly back. On March 31 against the D-backs at home, May pitched seven scoreless innings, the longest start of his career.
Allowing only three hits and a walk, May struck out four and was his usual animated self on and around the mound.
“I feel like I always wear my heart on my shoulder on the mound,” May said after the game.
May has four years, 59 days of major league service time, and is eligible for salary arbitration for a second time this winter. MLB Trade Rumors projects May to earn $2.4 million in 2024, a 43-percent raise over this season.