Walker Buehler's rocky return to the mound saved by huge night for Dodgers' lineup

May 6, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA;  Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler (21)
May 6, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler (21) / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The first pitch Walker Buehler threw for the Dodgers after nearly two years off of a major league mound was a 96 MPH heater almost right down the middle. Jazz Chisholm, hitting leadoff for the Marlins, swung at — and hard — but couldn't connect. The first strike of the evening sent a roar through the crowd. After an almost two-year wait, Buehler was back.

He was taken down in June 2022 with an elbow injury and underwent his second Tommy John surgery. His return kept hitting snag after snag, which led to delay after delay, but after what seemed like a lot of equivocating on the Dodgers' part, he was reactivated to start Monday's game.

The fact that Buehler was throwing 96 MPH right out the gate was reassuring; at the earlier stages of his rehab, his fastball was hanging out around 92, and there were some worries that he wasn't going to be able to get his velocity back after another major surgery.

However, despite the velocity being in a good place and that initial strike on Chisholm, things started to shake quickly. Chisholm ended that nine-pitch at-bat with a single, then he stole second base with Bryan De La Cruz at the plate. De La Cruz came throw and singled to score Chisholm easily. Two batters and two outs later, Jesús Sánchez came up to drive in De La Cruz. At the bottom of the first, it was already 2-0 Marlins.

But Buehler wasn't without backup. The Dodgers lineup had his back.

Dodgers lineup did what they do best to support Walker Buehler's return to the mound after nearly two years

The Dodgers were facing Marlins pitcher Roddery Muñoz — called up from Triple-A on April 20, where he had a 8.62 ERA over 15 2/3 innings — who immediately walked Mookie Betts on four pitches to start the bottom of the first. Shohei Ohtani stepped up to the plate and immediately took Muñoz's fifth pitch thrown for a ball in a row. The count went to 2-2 before Ohtani absolutely smashed a fastball up in the zone to deep center field (441 feet). Freddie Freeman rubbed in the greatness of the Dodgers' top three hitters by following Ohtani with a second-pitch home run as the next man up. 3-2 Dodgers.

Buehler gave up a solo homer to Nick Gordon, made an error at first, and allowed a double to Chisholm in the second, but he kept the game tied instead of allowing the Marlins the lead. He only gave up one more hit to Sánchez in the top of the third and pitched a clean fourth before being replaced by Ryan Yarbrough, who was working with a 6-3 lead thanks to two more Dodgers bombs from James Outman and Teoscar Hernández.

Buehler's first outing of the year was far from perfect — his final line was 4 innings pitched, 6 hits, three earned runs, four strikeouts — but the Dodgers, who have sometimes struggled with run support this season, came through for him. He still has a ways to go before getting back to the pitcher we remember him being in 2021, but at least he's finally taken his first step.