LOS ANGELES — Walker Buehler is healthy, and was among the many star Dodgers players on hand for DodgerFest at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. The right-hander’s next major league game will be his first since June 10, 2022, but it won’t be at the start of the regular season.
“Walker is on a slow program. I think it’s very safe to say it’s going to be a late start to the season,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday. “I don’t think anyone has a timeline, but he’s going to be a late arrival [to the regular season]. But the rehab, the work looks great.”
Walker Buehler had his second career Tommy John surgery in August 2022 as well as flexor tendon repair in his right elbow. He aimed for a return last September, which would have been very aggressive just 13 months after surgery. But after one minor league rehab assignment of two innings in Triple-A, Buehler and the Dodgers shut things down, focusing instead on getting ready for 2024.
Saturday’s reveal wasn’t much of a surprise, as the team has hinted at Buehler not starting the season on the active roster, including at the general manager meetings in November.
Buehler is healthy, and has been throwing and working out at Dodger Stadium since the year began. But given that he hasn’t pitched in a year and a half, and has totaled just 67 innings in the majors and minors over the last two seasons combined, Buehler will be limit this season in 2024.
“There will be some delay on the season, at least. At the end of the day, we’re trying to work within a certain innings limit, an innings count. We’ve had a lot of conversations about it,” Buehler said Saturday. “I’m throwing off the mound and throwing bullpens regularly now. I’ll build up and try and contribute when I can.”
The Dodgers have the luxury of slow-playing Buehler thanks to a busy winter and existing minor league pitching depth. The team signed Yoshinobu Yamamoto to the largest and longest contract for a pitcher in major league history, and signed Tyler Glasnow for five years after trading for him.
Bobby Miller is the top returning starter, and the Dodgers also signed veteran James Paxton, though the left-hander’s contract was slightly reworked over an “unspecified health issue” so he’s no sure thing.
Being sixth on the Dodgers rotation depth chart is not such a bad place to be. Emmet Sheehan made 11 starts for the Dodgers as a rookie, and pitched so well down the stretch he was added to the National League Division Series roster. He’ll get his share of starts in 2024, including likely at or near the start of the season given that Buehler will be out.
“I ended the year on a high note in the last month,” Sheehan said Saturday. “I’m super excited this year.
Buehler will start the season on the injured list — the 15-day variety; not 60 days — with the idea to have him ready and available down the stretch and into October. Buehler has a 2.94 ERA in 15 career postseason starts, and a good season in 2024 will boost his free agent market next winter.
“I’m excited to be a part of this rotation whenever I can,” Buehler said.