Walker Buehler reported to spring training a month ago not feeling right. He insists he was not injured, but something was off. He said he noticed it as he pushed through his offseason throwing program, culminating in a handful of bullpen sessions before arriving in Arizona, and he continued noticing it during his first bullpen session at Camelback Ranch.
Then the Dodgers decided to slow him down, to hit the reset button on the prized 24-year-old right-hander after he logged 177 innings between the regular season and playoffs in 2018, double his workload from the previous campaign. Both Buehler, who underwent elbow ligament-replacement surgery in 2015, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts maintained he was, and remains, healthy. Roberts labeled last month’s setback “nothing of significance.”
“It’s just kind of hangover stuff from last year and you don’t really want to ramp things up until you’re feeling right,” Buehler said. “So just kind of normal stuff. But nothing super specific.”
So with two weeks remaining until opening day, Buehler is catching up.
On Wednesday, he faced hitters for the second time this spring in a live batting practice. He threw 33 pitches over two simulated innings to Corey Seager, Ezequiel Carrera and Paulo Orlando. The hitters put the ball in play three times: Carrera hit a groundball to first base, Orlando flied out to center field and Seager cracked a line drive to the right-center-field gap in the second of his three at-bats. Buehler completed his work by striking out Orlando and Seager.
Roberts said Buehler will next pitch in a Cactus League game either Monday or Tuesday. His status is murky beyond that.
Roberts explained Buehler could start the season on the roster, but could be limited to four or five innings in his first start. Buehler said starting on opening day if Clayton Kershaw, who is also behind schedule, is deemed not ready is “far-fetched” but he hopes he will not be restricted for his first outing.
“I think the timing’s a little difficult but I fully plan to be able to pitch and be a normal starting pitcher opening week,” Buehler said. “That’s my goal and that’s our goal. If it doesn’t happen, if it’s four innings, that’s fine. If it’s five, if it’s six, I think it’s all a matter of how we respond and that’ll be it.”
The progress has been positive so far. Barring another setback, Buehler should be in the Dodgers’ opening-day rotation, cracking an opening-day roster for the first time in his career. But the Dodgers’ goal is to win in October, not in April, and Buehler’s presence in the fall is paramount.
“It’s going to be another long season,” Roberts said, “so when he’s ready we’re going to lean on him.”