Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler had Tommy John surgery in August, the second time he’s gone under the knife for that particular procedure. Los Angeles drafted him in 2015 with the understanding that he needed Tommy John and wouldn’t be able to start his pro career immediately.
The normal recovery time from TJ for a pitcher is 12-15 months, and that recovery time is often on the longer end when it’s not the player’s first surgery. As Bill Plunkett reports in the Orange County Register, Buehler was asked at spring training how his recovery is going compared to the first time.
“I feel pretty good with where I’m at. Really, I don’t remember a ton about how I felt or whatever (during the first rehab). But I feel good that we’re on track to throw right around that six-month mark. I know with the second one, that can kind of be a little bit longer process. But all the numbers and strength and all that seem to be where they need to be.”
Buehler still holds out hope to play this season, but he recognizes that it’s mostly out of his hands and he’s at the mercy of his body.
“If it’s on the 15(-month recovery time), then I probably won’t pitch this year. But that’s not my call. … I think in the grand scheme of it, it’s kind of the surgery’s decision. If I’m healthy and the timeline says I can pitch, I’m going to pitch. I’m not going to wait another six months (until the 2024 season) to pitch if I don’t have to.”
The reality is, even at a 13-month recovery, he wouldn’t be ready until the very end of the regular season, and as we saw with Dustin May in 2022, the transition back to pitching after Tommy John isn’t always seamless. Realistically, Buehler would need the best-case recovery time of 12 months to get back and pitch anything meaningful in 2023.
That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Every body is different, and every surgery is different. Buehler was back on the mound 11 months after his first TJ, but he pitched a total of five minor-league innings spread out over 52 days. He didn’t throw as many as five innings or 70 pitches in a game until more than 21 months after the surgery.
Buehler doesn’t really know when he’ll be back, so it doesn’t make much sense for us to speculate, either. Hopefully, when he does return, he’ll be fully healthy and quickly return to the form that had him finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2021.
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