MILWAUKEE — The Dodgers have the best record of the Majors. They’re aiming for a 10th straight playoff appearance and a second World Series title in three years.
But they will have to try to do it without Walker Buhler, who will undergo season-ending elbow surgery, the Dodgers announced Monday. The surgery will be performed on August 23 by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.
“It’s definitely a blow,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Monday. “We are better with Walker on our ball club. But we can’t do anything about it. I still believe we have enough guys to get through October to avoid the races. But yeah, I mean, we wanted Walker to be part of it.
Roberts and the Dodgers gave vague answers when asked repeatedly about the type of surgery Buehler will undergo next Tuesday. The Dodgers manager added, however, that he did not expect it to be Tommy John Surgery. He said he could be wrong once Dr. ElAttrache begins the procedure, but that’s initially good news for the Dodgers and the right-hander.
What’s potentially not good news is how open this wound seems to be.
If the Dodgers had a clear diagnosis, it would be easy to determine a reasonable timeline for Buehler’s return. But, for now, there are a lot of questions and not enough answers. Roberts said the Dodgers will have more information after they have the surgery.
“I don’t want to preempt what it might or might not be,” Roberts said. “I think it’s just because if we had clarity on what it was like before going in, then you have a timeline. But at the moment, we don’t. I think we would all like to have total clarity right now.
The only clarity the Dodgers have is that Buehler will not be part of their playoff run. Returning their opening day starter for the stretch run has always been the goal after Buehler suffered a grade 2 flexor strain on June 10.
Buehler has caught up plenty of times in recent weeks. During his progress, he had extended to 120 feet, but constant discomfort on the Dodgers’ final homestand forced the right-hander to shut things down. That’s when he underwent an MRI, which clearly indicated that his season was over.
“We took the opportunity to try to take some time off, to start a showing to get it back this year,” Roberts said. “Then as he went through that, we couldn’t get over the hump. We tried and now we have to go in.
As Roberts mentioned, officially losing Buehler is a blow to the Dodgers, who opted not to trade for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Part of that thinking was that they hoped to have a pitcher like Buehler back in the fold.
Without Buehler, the Dodgers will continue to ask Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin to lead the rotation. Tyler Anderson was also a solid option, making his first team All-Star. Dustin May, who will make his first start from Tommy John Surgery on August 20 against the Marlins, could have a bigger role down the stretch.
Then there’s Clayton Kershaw, who is currently on the injured reserve with a lower back injury. Kershaw should return to health at some point over the next few weeks, which should give him time to prepare before the playoffs.
“I spoke to Dustin today and he’s not a savior. I just want him to come out and throw well,” Roberts said. “And when Clayton comes back, he has to do his job. I don’t see it as pressure, it’s just more, we don’t have guys we were hoping to be with us.
Buehler had struggled this season while healthy, posting a 4.02 ERA over 12 starts. But few pitchers in the Majors have had the level of success Buehler had when the lights came on in October.
Last October, Buehler was their workhorse, pitching twice on short rest, once in the NL Division Series against the Giants and again in the NLCS against the Braves.