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West Notes: Buehler, Rockies, Blackburn


Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery last August, and recently told reporters that the date he’s targeting for a return to action this season is September 1. While not unheard of, a 12-month recovery timeline from Tommy John surgery is a rare feat for pitchers, particularly those rehabbing from the procedure for a second time, as Buehler is.

Despite the seemingly long odds, Jon Heyman of the New York Post noted yesterday that the possibility remains on the table, with one notable caveat: Buehler’s return to the Dodgers could come out of the bullpen rather than as a member of the starting rotation. If Buehler indeed makes his return later this season as a reliever, it would be a notable change of pace for the 28-year-old righty. 106 of Buehler’s 115 appearances in the majors have come as a starter, and he has come out of the bullpen just once since the start of the 2018 campaign.

In those 10 1/3 innings of work out of the bullpen so far in his career, Buehler has struggled to a 11.32 ERA. Of course, such a small sample that’s over half a decade old at this point matters far less than Buehler’s more recent work, which has been nothing short of dominant. Since the start of the 2018 campaign, Buehler has posted a phenomenal 2.95 ERA that’s 40% better than league average by measure of ERA+ with an equally strong 3.22 FIP in 629 innings of work at the front of the Dodgers’ rotation. The highlight of his career to this point came in 2021, when he made an MLB-leading 33 starts while posting a phenomenal 2.47 ERA (171 ERA+) with a 3.16 FIP that earned him a top-4 finish in Cy Young Award voting.

Whether as a starter or a reliever, a pitcher of Buehler’s caliber would surely be an asset to the Dodgers both down the stretch and as they gear up for a hypothetical playoff run. While the Dodgers have a plethora of viable rotation options, Dustin May, Julio Urias, Michael Grove, and Ryan Pepiot are all currently on the injured list alongside Buehler, and both Noah Syndergaard and Tony Gonsolin have spent time on the shelf previously this season as well. Given the number of options that could be at the club’s disposal, and the number of injuries they’ve suffered already this season, it’s near impossible to predict what LA’s rotation could look like come September, whether Buehler is ready for a return or not.

More from around the West divisions…

  • In the same article, Heyman also notes that the Rockies have interest in former Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore for a high-ranking front office role, though the club appears to be content with Bill Schmidt as GM. Heyman notes that Moore expressed he hadn’t heard about Colorado’s interest in his services. Nonetheless, it’s notable that the Rockies, a club that has typically been known for hiring within the organization for their front office, would seek the services of an external candidate. Moore was fired by the Royals last season after sixteen years at the helm of the organization, during which he oversaw the club’s 2015 World Series championship. Moore was hired by the Rangers as a senior advisor to the baseball operations department in November.
  • Athletics right-hander Paul Blackburn is poised to make his first start of the 2023 campaign sometime next week, as noted by Martin Gallegos of Blackburn started the season on the injured list with a torn fingernail and had the start of his season delayed further by a blister on his pitching hand, but now appears to be close to a return. The 29-year-old Blackburn got his first extended look in the rotation last season, when he posted a solid 3.62 ERA in the first half en route to becoming a 2022 All-Star. Unfortunately, Blackburn would pitch just 14 1/3 innings in the second half, allowing 14 runs in three starts before heading to the IL with finger inflammation. Upon his return to the A’s rotation, Blackburn figures to help steady a group that has featured little certainty beyond JP Sears.

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