What Walker Buehler’s early returns mean for him and the Dodgers

Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds v Los Angeles Dodgers / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

It’s only May, but the Los Angeles Dodgers recently got back a starter who could influence their perspective on October baseball.

Impatient to return, Walker Buehler has only made three starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, but during that stretch, he’s incrementally gotten better. The 29-year old’s early returns don’t illustrate his ceiling, but point to an extremely high floor.

What does having a healthy Walker Buehler mean for 2024 Dodgers postseason?

“A healthy Walker Buehler, that’s huge for us,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman told MLB.com. “It’s been a long road back for him and just whatever happens down the road, so be it. But if we can get a healthy Walker, that’s huge for us.”

Through his first trio of 2024 appearances, Buehler has recorded a 4.05 ERA and 13.1 innings of work. He only pitched 7.1 combined innings across his first two starts against the Miami Marlins and surrendered three home runs during that stretch, two of which came off of his fastball.

His third and most recent start was a different story. The righty slung six innings of scoreless baseball and struck out seven batters en route to a 4-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

“Buehler made for a tough at-bat,” Reds manager David Bell told MLB.com. “He throws six different pitches, all for strikes. I know he had been out for a while, and we haven’t seen him for a long time. That was kind of back to where he once was to us.”

While it’s far too early to speak about Buehler’s advanced metrics or make any huge proclamations, his commendable start shows room for growth and reason to be bullish on the rest of his campaign.

You'd like to see him go further into games without running into trouble, which will ultimately be a process that will require Buehler’s pitch count to slowly increase. He’s yet to pass the 80-pitch mark, and only began to look truly comfortable against Cincinnati.

He will have to be careful with his fastball placement and knuckle-curve usage. Both pitches have yielded averages above .300 so far, but some of this could be attributed to a small sample size and Buehler’s need to trust his stuff coming off of injury.

Learning to work with these initial bumps and bruises could end up raising Buehler’s already high ceiling. The best pitchers can gut out innings even when they don’t feel their best. Although not intentionally, the Lexington native is learning a valuable approach, one that could come in handy down the road, with a rotation that is partially recovering.

Buehler has shown he’s healthy and ready to compete. Even in the month of May, his outcomes are nothing to sneer at when one considers he missed nearly two years of action. The Dodgers have huge Postseason aspirations, and Buehler’s steady ramp up may help him add to his already solid October resume.