New Dodgers reliever Tommy Kahnle hopes a quick recovery enables him to pitch in 2021
Atop the Dodgers’ winter checklist was upgrading the bullpen for their title defense in 2021. Last week, they took it a step further and addressed 2022.
The Dodgers signed Tommy Kahnle to a two-year contract expecting not to have Kahnle pitch this year. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in August. Pitchers who have the procedure usually need 12 to 18 months before returning to game action, leaving a small chance that Kahnle could pitch for the Dodgers in 2021. Kahnle is holding out hope.
“I’m definitely trying to, hopefully, pitch [in 2021],” Kahnle said in a phone interview Wednesday. “But I mean, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But I would like to. It’s just the mentality.
“You don’t want to miss out on a year. Especially because you know they’re going to be in contention. You know there’s a good chance we’re going back to the World Series. So, I want to be playing a part of it instead of sitting there and watching it happen.”
Former Padres All-Star closer Kirby Yates could be in the Dodgers’ price range. Their interest in top free agent closer Liam Hendriks has waned.
Kahnle, 31, tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his first and only outing of the 2020 season for the New York Yankees on July 26. He underwent surgery Aug. 4 and started throwing weighted balls against a trampoline about a month ago. He said he’s a week or two away from throwing a baseball. He expects to travel to Arizona by the end of the month ahead of spring training.
The Dodgers are not afraid to take a chance on pitchers with Tommy John surgery in their recent past. Last month, they acquired Corey Knebel after the right-hander allowed nine runs in 13 1/3 innings in a rough return from the procedure in 2020. The Dodgers are banking on Knebel to rediscover his form this year and Kahnle next year.
Kahnle was one of baseball’s dominant relievers in 2017 and 2018 when he registered a cumulative 2.60 ERA in 90 innings for the Chicago White Sox and Yankees. At his peak, Kahnle featured a fastball that averaged 98 mph to go with a changeup and slider. He owns a 29.3% strikeout rate. Only three Dodgers relievers — Jake McGree, Caleb Ferguson and Kenley Jansen — finished with a higher percentage in 2020.
“Everyone seems to think I’ll be right back to where I was before it,” Kahnle said. “The way medicine today is and everything, they get you basically back to where you were. So I’m not worried about the rehab and getting back to where I was before. So I believe, maybe, I’ll throw harder, if not the same.”
In addition to all-star shortstop Francisco Lindor, the Mets acquired starter Carlos Carrasco from the Indians, giving them a top rotation for the playoffs.
Kahnle said his choice came down to the Boston Red Sox and the Dodgers. The Red Sox were a better geographical fit — Fenway Park is a three-hour drive from his hometown in New York — but he wanted to win and the Dodgers showered him with interest.
The contract is worth $4.75 million guaranteed plus incentives and includes a $550,000 signing bonus. Kahnle could make $750,000 in incentives in 2021 and an additional $3.45 million in 2022.
“They really showed me the love and it just, I don’t know, something was right there,” Kahnle said. “I just felt like I had to go with them.”
His goal is to help the Dodgers defend their championship in 2021. For now, he’s rehabbing six days a week, taking Sundays off, and playing “Call of Duty” on his Twitch stream four nights a week.
“It’s whatever’s best for me,” Kahnle said. “The thing is just to get me back to where I was. So, if I’m not there, I’m not going to try to rush it. But I would hope to pitch by the end of the year.”
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