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Gus Varland finds his way back to the Dodgers

Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Gus Varland made his Dodgers debut on Wednesday night, returning to his old team, pitching against his old team in a surreal time for the rookie right-hander.

The Dodgers lost Varland in the Rule 5 Draft in December, and the right-hander made the Brewers roster in spring training. He was returned to the Dodgers in May, and impressed in Triple-A Oklahoma City to the tune of a 2.16 ERA in 30 games with 39 strikeouts against eight walks in 33⅓ innings.

Dodgers pitchers used in 2023

Pitcher Name Date
Pitcher Name Date
1 Julio Urías Mar 30
2 Phil Bickford Mar 30
3 Shelby Miller Mar 30
4 Yency Almonte Mar 30
5 Dustin May Mar 31
6 Alex Vesia Mar 31
7 Evan Phillips Mar 31
8 Caleb Ferguson Mar 31
9 Clayton Kershaw Apr 1
10 Andre Jackson Apr 1
11 Noah Syndergaard Apr 2
12 Brusdar Graterol Apr 2
13 Michael Grove Apr 3
14 Justin Bruihl Apr 17
15 Jake Reed Apr 21
16 Luke Williams* Apr 21
17 Victor González Apr 25
18 Tony Gonsolin Apr 26
19 Gavin Stone May 3
20 Wander Suero May 5
21 Dylan Covey May 17
22 Tyler Cyr May 19
23 Bobby Miller May 23
24 Tayler Scott Jun 3
25 Nick Robertson Jun 7
26 Adam Kolarek Jun 11
27 Emmet Sheehan Jun 16
28 Bryan Hudson Jun 17
29 Ryan Brasier Jun 21
30 Daniel Hudson Jun 30
31 Yonny Hernández* Jul 2
32 Tyson Miller Jul 26
33 Joe Kelly Jul 29
34 Miguel Rojas* Jul 30
35 Lance Lynn Aug 1
36 Ryan Yarbrough Aug 5
37 Gus Varland Aug 16
*position player

Varland was called up on Tuesday, and didn’t realize who the Dodgers were playing this week until he arrived in Los Angeles.

“I flew into LA, and that night when I got settled into my hotel, I checked [the schedule] and was like, ‘No way,’” Varland said Tuesday. “This is like a story script.”

The story could have been a bit of a nightmare for Varland, who was hit by a comebacker in San Diego, a ball that nearly hit him in the head but he got his right (pitching) hand up in time to deflect it. A right-hand contusion forced him on the injured list, then while rehabbing he was hit by another ball back to the box, only this time on his left hand.

Varland said it was more difficult dealing with the injury mentally than physically.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all, and it’s just something you’ve got to get past,” Varland said. “Physically it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t have a concussion, I didn’t have a broken bone.”

When he returned from the injured list, Varland wasn’t the same, and allowed nine runs in an inning, after which he was designated for assignment, then returned to the Dodgers. He took it all in stride.

“I wasn’t too mad about it. That’s part of the game. I had no options, and they were in first place. That’s the way she goes,” Varland said. “I got to go back to Triple-A with all my friends on the Dodgers. I was in a win-win no matter what.”

The Dodgers first acquired Varland along with Sheldon Neuse from the A’s in exchange for Adam Kolarek and Cody Thomas in February 2021. Varland was floundering as a starter before switching to the bullpen in May 2022 while in Double-A Tulsa.

He credits pitching coaches Ryan Dennick and Luis Vasquez with facilitating the switch to relief work, and changing his mindset on the mound.

“Those two guys changed my career,” Varland said. “My success, especially last year in Double-A, were the mechanical changes I made in my delivery, to be more consistent, more powerful, and a different mentality of just attacking the zone.”

Varland was impressive in his first game with the Dodgers. Staked with finishing out a 7-1 game on Wednesday, the right-hander struck out three of his six batters faced. He allowed a walk, which was immediately erased with a ground ball double play.

Varland averaged 96.3 mph on his four-seam fastball, and induced seven swinging strikes in his 24 pitches over two innings.

How long Varland sticks remains to be seen, but he could have some staying power, as he’s one of only four right-handers in the bullpen at the moment. Joe Kelly and Yency Almonte are on the injured list until at least late next week. Shelby Miller is on a rehab assignment and could return by next week.

Varland is the 37th different pitcher used by the Dodgers this season, one fewer than the Rays for the most in the majors this season. Thirty-seven pitchers is two shy of the Dodgers franchise record, set in a 2021 season that was more conducive to roster turnover, with expanded active rosters for a few months, unlimited in-season options, and only 10 days for pitchers on option or the injured list instead of 15.

Walker Buehler and Blake Treinen are throwing in Arizona, and could potentially add to that pitcher list. The Dodgers still have six and a half weeks and 43 games left in the season to see if there are any other pitchers they can add to the list.