Walker Buehler, Dodgers continue to conflict on timetable for return

Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers
Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers / Harry How/GettyImages
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The Walker Buehler return from injury saga has been a roller coaster. After undergoing Tommy John in 2022, the Dodgers originally hoped that he would be back in 2023 in time for the postseason, but that clearly never came to fruition. The timeline was pushed back to Opening Day 2024, but in early January, some reports placed his return in the early months of the season, but weren't confident he'd be ready by Opening Day.

Then, mid-January, Buehler said that he although he wasn't completely on schedule, he expected to pitch a few innings in spring training. That seems to be the stance he's still taking, but Dave Roberts and Dodgers management appear to have other ideas.

At spring training, Roberts said it was "unlikely" that Buehler would pitch in spring games and they still hadn't pinned down an exact return date, while Buehler said that he'd like to get a few innings in before Opening Day. Disagreement on Buehler's readiness has become a theme between him and the Dodgers, and it leaves everyone to continue scratching their heads about when he'll be back on the mound in a major league game.

Walker Buehler, Dodgers still aren't in agreement about when he'll be ready to pitch again

Buehler has also said this offseason that his fastball is at 92-94 MPH, still a few ticks off from where it sat when he was healthy. The Dodgers might be holding off to see if he can recover some more velocity, and there might be some underlying troubles that they aren't making public, but something is clearly holding the team back, even though Buehler seems to be champing at the bit to pitch competitively again.

It makes sense that Buehler would want to get back as soon as possible; he's in his last year before free agency, and he's likely looking for a strong, mostly full year of pitching to sell himself at the end of the season, either to the Dodgers or to another team that would likely pay him handsomely if he's healthy. It also could be a plain case of FOMO — with the Dodgers in the shape they're in, it would just make sense that he wants to be a part of it as soon as possible.

Either way, spring training games start this week and wrap up on March 26, after a brief trip to Korea during the third week of March to open the season against the Padres in Seoul. Buehler definitely won't be on the mound there, but it remains to be seen who will win out — Buehler or Dodgers management — during those last few games after they return to the States.

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