As a Rule 5 draftee, the Brewers had to keep Varland on their roster for the entire 2023 season. Otherwise, before being optioned, the Brewers would have had to offer him back to the Dodgers for $50,000.
As such, Varland opened his rookie campaign with the Brewers and made eight appearances, seven of which went fairly well. Varland is primarily a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher with not-overpowering stuff. Varland had a solid first month before he went on the injured list when a Manny Machado comebacker struck Varland’s hand and ended his Jackie Robinson day.
Varland made two more appearances after returning from the injured list. The first of these appearances was against the Dodgers where Varland pitched 1⅓ innings and walked three. The second and last of these appearances was a disaster against the Cardinals, where in tw-thirds of an inning, Varland gave up nine runs on six hits, three walks, and two home runs.
As a result of this outing, Varland’s 2023 season ERA jumped from 2.25 to 11.42.
Unsurprisingly, on May 16, the Brewers designated Varland for assignment, and six days later Milwaukee sent him back to the Dodgers. Varland was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he was adequate as he appeared in 30 games, pitching in 33⅓ innings, earning a 2-1 record with two saves and a 2.16 ERA.
Varland was recalled to Los Angeles on August 15 when Jake Marisnick’s season ended. Varland made eight appearances from mid-August through early September in middle relief. Varland was solid during this stretch while pitching 11⅔ innings, striking out 14 with eight walks with a 3.09 ERA and 2.91 FIP.
Unfortunately for Varland, on September 10, he suffered right knee inflammation during the Dodgers-Nationals series in Washington D.C. Varland was sent to the injured list with Wander Suero taking Varland’s roster spot. Two days later, the Dodgers transferred Varland to the 60-day injured list to make room for Kyle Hurt on the major league roster, ending Varland’s season.
Overall, for a Rule 5 pick, apart from a terrible evening in St. Louis (and honestly, who hasn’t had one, right?), Varland did admirably in his rookie campaign. Whether Varland stays on the fringes of the Dodgers’ roster going forward is an open question, but from what I saw in Cleveland, there is enough promise to merit a closer look in 2024.
Stats: 3.09 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 1.714 WHIP, 11⅔ IP, 14 K, 8 BB with Dodgers
Game of the year
As a middle reliever picking a game of the year is difficult, but all things considered, Varland pitching well in the “Game that would never end (it just went on and on, my friend)” on August 23 in Cleveland merits game of the year honors.
Varland got four outs in a scoreless outing, with three strikeouts.
Varland retains rookie status going into 2024 with 102 days of service time and all three of his option years remaining.