Walker Buehler had a goal of returning from a second Tommy John surgery by September 1 of this season, which the Los Angeles Dodgers regularly cautioned was much more aggressive than what they envisioned.
Manager Dave Roberts nevertheless acknowledged late last month that he would not bet against Buehler pitching this season, even if it was after his target date. Buehler then began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City and pitched to encouraging results.
He was scheduled for a second rehab start, only to then announce a return this season was no longer being pursued.
“I checked a lot of the boxes that I wanted to. We talked about September 1st and all that stuff, and in a lot of ways, I got to compete and go out pretty quickly,” Buehler said in his first interview since shifting his focus to 2024.
“I’m pretty proud of that, but at the end of the day I kind of wasn’t recovering the way I would need to, to make an impact here and an impact that’s worth any risk of coming back. I talked to everyone involved — my agents, organization, my family — and it’s just kind of the right thing to do.
“Obviously disappointing for me, but we’ve still got a really good team here and I’m excited to watch them the rest of the year.”
That Buehler made one rehab start before being shut down for the rest of year raised some external concern there was a health component or setback, but the true issue was getting back into a place to take the mound again.
“I got through it and I was throwing 96 (mph) or whatever. Physically, I felt really good. It was just the recovery part of it is tough,” Buehler explained.
“I think the intensity of a game versus any sort of live, or going to Triple-A, or whatever, and not feeling great, then to think about trying to pitch in a playoff game, be on the roster and take a spot where I can’t come back as fast as I want, I think a lot of the puzzle pieces worked and a few of them didn’t.
“Trying to come back from a second Tommy John in 13 months to pitch in playoff games, at some point it had to go perfect. The nature of the rehab is it doesn’t always go perfect. It is what it is.
“Obviously the timing and it being this late in the year kind of sucks. The way I kind of explained it is I feel like I bet on a longshot horse and I ran second. I certainly don’t think it came in last. For me, I got really, really close. Every week of a rehab process you’re assessing everything.
“After the game, we just didn’t like the pros and cons of where I was at, so we moved forward to get ready for next year.”
Walker Buehler wanted to earn spot on Dodgers postseason roster
Had Buehler and the Dodgers decided to continue with his rehab assignment in pursuit of a return, he likely would have been on their postseason roster if remaining healthy. But considering the trouble he had in recovering after one start, Buehler worried about being part of the playoffs primarily because of reputation.
“Obviously, I have a lot of pride in wearing a uniform and pitching in the playoffs and trying to help us win a World Series,” he said. “I think less so with what I could do on a mound, but how quickly I could get back and things like that. I didn’t want to be a hinderance in any way.
“I know that’s kind of more humble than you guys are used to hearing me, but it’s part of the decision. At the end of the day I think it was the right decision for myself and the organization.”
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