Dodgers: What to Expect from Reliever Tommy Kahnle in Return from Surgery

When the Dodgers signed right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle to a 2-year, $4.75 million deal in late 2020, they did it knowing that he would likely be unavailable for the 2021 season. Kahnle, 32, underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2020 after appearing in just one game for the Yankees that season.

A few days after tossing 20 pitches against the Nationals on July 26, an MRI revealed that Kahnle had suffered damage to his ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow that would require Tommy John surgery. There was a slim chance that Kahnle would be ready to make his Dodgers debut towards the end of the 2021 season, but unfortunately, he couldn’t make a full recovery in time.

Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts put an end to any speculation that Kahnle would pitch in 2021 after telling media that Kahnle’s “rehab timetable had changed” and that he had only progressed to playing catch in the spring of last year.

With Spring Training right around the corner, the question is: what role will Tommy Kahnle fill for LA next season? For starters, Kahnle is confident that he will return to where he was physically before the elbow injury. He said as much to the LA Times last year.

“Everyone seems to think I’ll be right back to where I was before it. 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.”

Even if Kahnle doesn’t see an uptick in his fastball velocity upon his return to action, if he can get close to where he was, he could eventually find himself in the mix to take over as the Dodgers’ closer at some point next season.

Tommy Kahnle Update! Should Kahnle Be Dodgers New Closer, What to Expect From Him in 2022!

Kahnle was one of the game’s elite relievers in 2016 and 2017, where he held a combined 2.60 ERA across 90 innings for the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. After a down 2018, his 2019 was huge for a Yankees team that made it to the ALCS.

“King Kahn” combined a plus four-seam fastball that averaged over 98 mph to go along with a filthy changeup and slider. Since 2016, Kahnle has posted a 3.64 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 35.2 K%, (14th MLB), 16.9 swinging-strike rate (8th), 33.7% chase rate outside of the zone. So, Kahnle has the swing-and-miss type of stuff that could make him an intriguing candidate to become the Dodgers closer at some point next season if Kenley Jansen signs elsewhere. However, coming back from Tommy John surgery is always a mixed bag, and every pitcher’s road to a full recovery is different.

Yes, Kahnle could hit the ground running in 2022 and quickly re-establish himself as one of the game’s better high-leverage relievers, but realistically speaking, having a more patient approach with Kahnle will likely lead to a more sustainable year for him in 2022. While the potential is there for Kahnle to be LA’s next closer, we would like first to see him progress towards returning to being a trusted high-leverage reliever before considering giving him the role. We discuss what to expect from Tommy Kahnle next season and the possibility of making him LA’s closer at some point next season. Plus, why Tommy Kahnle chose to sign with the Dodgers over the Red Sox in 2020.

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NEXT: Should Brusdar Graterol Step in as LA’s Closer Next Season?

Doug McKain

Doug McKain is a lifelong Dodger fan and hosts Dodgers Nation’s “DNpostgame” show online. He also hosts Dodgers DougOut and the LA Sports Report on YouTube. DMAC is also a rabid Lakers fan, and lover of all Los Angeles sports.


  1. I think Kahnle, at some point in 2022, should be able to replace Knebel in the bullpen – replacing Kenley is a totally different species of animal. Maybe Graterol will be ready, but I’m 99.999% positively sure that initially, if Kenley moves on, our closer will be Treinen.

    Looking forward to another supreme season from our bullpen regardless. Lots of very powerful arms just waiting to be used properly, therein lies the rub…

    1. I agree that Blake Trienen will be the closer to start the season. Blake Trienen also in my opinion seems to get the worst calls of any of our relievers. This is what worries me the most. The good news is he has an attitude that is pretty calm about it and presses on.I believe his stuff is so wicked on hitters that u,ps don’t give him the benefit of the doubt and seem to give his pitches that are close or even strikes the strike call. If they ever have (maybe some day but dot curing Blake Treinen’s prime) it would help him the most. I haven’t really seen Kahnely pitch so hopefully he is a mirror image of Trienen.

    2. Your last sentence is right on. If and when this lockout ends, we still have to endure some inept managing decisions by Roberts. It’s expected he would make similar decisions in regards to both pitchers and position players as before.

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