Dodgers suffer ‘significant loss’ with Dustin May out for remainder of 2021

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May throws against the San Diego Padres on April 25.
Dodgers starting pitcher Dustin May throws against the San Diego Padres on April 25. May is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery next week.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The Dodgers broke spring training this year with a somewhat surprising decision: Dustin May, not David Price or Tony Gonsolin, would assume the fifth spot in the starting rotation. They banked on May taking the next step in his development, on his ability to progress from a young kid occasionally making hitters look foolish with his elite two-seamer to a dominant major league pitcher consistently shutting down lineups every five or six days.

He made strides in that direction in the season’s first month, culminating in setting a career high with 10 strikeouts against the San Diego Padres in his fourth start. He had command of his curveball. He was generating swing-and-misses. He was taking the next step.

That development came to a disturbing halt Saturday in Milwaukee when he winced and signaled to the dugout after throwing his 28th pitch, a 94-mph fastball that went wide. It’ll be the last pitch he throws in 2021.

The worst-case scenario was confirmed Monday when an MRI exam revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. May will undergo Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ligament on May 11 in Los Angeles. The club didn’t disclose if May has a complete or partial tear. Rehabilitation timetables are generally 12 to 16 months. Anything longer and there’s a chance he doesn’t pitch for the Dodgers again until 2023.

Any talk of these Dodgers being the best team ever can be put on hold, until next year or sometime after that, unless the bullpen and defense improve.

May 2, 2021


“When you’re developing and now you get the year cut short, that impacts development,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “What Dustin has done is he’s just matured more as a major league ballplayer. His work in between starts has been way more focused, way more consistent, there’s a routine in there, and he’s been pitching really well. To not be able to build on that is really unfortunate.”

May posted a 2.74 earned-run average and 0.957 WHIP in 23 innings across five starts this season. He compiled 35 strikeouts to six walks, striking out 13.7 batters per nine innings.

“That’s a significant loss for us,” third baseman Justin Turner said before the Dodgers announced May’s impending surgery. “That’s a significant arm that we’ve relied on and we were planning on relying on. Just feel terrible for Dustin.”

May’s misfortune is the fourth significant injury for the Dodgers’ pitching staff in the last 10 days. Relievers Corey Knebel (lat), Brusdar Graterol (forearm) and Price (hamstring) landed on the injured list during that period. Knebel is expected to miss a few months. Price will miss a few weeks. Graterol’s status is uncertain; Roberts said the hard-throwing right-hander will undergo an MRI exam Tuesday.

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May walks off the field after suffering an arm injury against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

May’s injury, crushing in the long term, also put the Dodgers in a bind in the short term.

Originally, the Dodgers could have avoided using a fifth starter for two weeks because of three days off over the course of 11 days starting Thursday. But Monday’s postponement created a seven-inning split doubleheader Tuesday and the need for a fifth starter by the end of the week unless the Dodgers choose to stage another bullpen game or have a starter pitch on short rest.

Clayton Kershaw, Tuesday’s listed starter, will start Game 1 of the doubleheader. Trevor Bauer will start Game 2. Walker Buehler, Monday’s scheduled starter, will start Wednesday. Bauer, who has lobbied to pitch on three days’ rest, will start on regular rest.


Extra rest doesn’t always prevent injury. May is an example. He could’ve started Friday against the Brewers on regular rest, but the Dodgers went with a bullpen game to give him and the other starters an extra day. May made one of his five starts on regular rest. Two were made on five days’ rest. One was made on eight days.

Any talk of these Dodgers being the best team ever can be put on hold, until next year or sometime after that, unless the bullpen and defense improve.

May 2, 2021

Roberts said May didn’t report any issues or show any warning signs before the injury. The numbers didn’t indicate a problem. May’s average fastball velocity was the second highest in the majors amongst starters behind Jacob deGrom at 98.2 mph.

But his improvement — most notable in his whiff rate jumping from the seventh to the 78th percentile across the majors — stemmed from his curveball. May’s use of the pitch increased from 13.4% last season to 22.8% this season. Hitters went 0 for 23 with 16 strikeouts against the curveball. They whiffed on 45.2% of the 84 times he used it. It became an elite pitch.

Roberts said May initially felt pain Saturday after throwing a curveball. Moments later, he grimaced and walked off the field.

“I feel for him most importantly,” Roberts said. “But, for our ballclub, it’s a big blow.”