Any hopes of Walker Buehler returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers' needy rotation before the start of the postseason were officially dashed Friday when the team announced that Buehler, in the late stages of his recovery from a second Tommy John surgery, will instead focus on "coming back at the start of the 2024 campaign."
"My goal since last year has been to return to a major league mound this season," Buehler wrote in a statement. "After many conversations with my doctor, the Dodgers' front office, training staff and my family, we concluded that waiting until next season is the right course of action. I am disappointed that I will not be able to help this team go after a title in the 2023 postseason, but I look forward to returning fully healthy in 2024 and bringing another World Series to L.A."
Buehler first underwent a reconstruction of his ulnar collateral ligament shortly after becoming the 24th overall pick in 2015, then underwent a second procedure near the end of August in 2022.
Buehler, 29, had initially targeted being a full-fledged member of the Dodgers' rotation by the start of September, a goal coaches and executives considered admirable but overly ambitious. As the regular season came to a close, however, the thought of Buehler starting games in October -- although perhaps not facing an opposing lineup more than one or two times -- was beginning to look like a possibility. He had faced hitters a handful of times in Arizona, then threw two scoreless innings in his first rehab start with the team's Triple-A affiliate Sunday. His second -- and potentially penultimate -- rehab outing was scheduled for Friday. But now it won't take place.
Buehler didn't necessarily suffer a setback; he mostly ran out of time. But his status triggers even more uncertainty around the Dodgers' rotation heading into the playoffs. The team has already lost Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May for the year, and Julio Urías, arrested Sunday on suspicion of felony domestic violence, is on administrative leave and is widely considered highly unlikely to pitch again this season. Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, pitched through diminished velocity earlier this week, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted that Kershaw is experiencing shoulder issues. The team's other veteran, Lance Lynn, has allowed a major-league-leading 40 home runs this season.
Buehler was previously in line to make his return roughly 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, well within the typical recovery range of 12 to 18 months. But coming back from a second procedure has proved to be more difficult, with Nathan Eovaldi probably the most successful case study.
Buehler is on track to be a free agent after the 2024 season.