Walker Buehler injury: Dodgers righty throws two perfect innings in first rehab game since Tommy John surgery

Walker Buehler injury: Dodgers righty throws two perfect innings in first rehab game since Tommy John surgery

Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler took a significant step toward his return from Tommy John surgery Sunday. Buehler struck out two in two perfect innings in a Triple-A rehab start with the Oklahoma City Dodgers (box score). It was his first minor-league rehab game. Buehler had his second career Tommy John surgery last August.

Buehler's fastball topped out at 96.1 mph Sunday, according to Statcast, and he no longer brings his hands over his head during his delivery. Here's video:

Earlier this week Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Buehler will make at least three minor-league rehab appearances. In that case the earliest he would return is Sept. 18, assuming he stays on a five-day schedule and is not given extra rest at some point. That won't be enough time for Buehler to get fully stretched out, so he figures to return with some sort of pitch limit.

"I'm shocked," Roberts told Dodger Blue when asked about how well Buehler has recovered. "But in that same breath, guys like Walker are just different. They're wired and mentally different, physically they're just freaks of nature. So you can't discount that. I was surprised that he put it in the universe he was going to be back (this season), but I'm going to bet on him."

These days Tommy John surgery typically comes with a 14-18 month rehab. This is Buehler's second career elbow reconstruction, and the second Tommy John surgery usually comes with a longer rehab than the first, but Buehler has recovered exceptionally well. Returning to game action within 14 months of a second Tommy John surgery is remarkable.

Buehler, 29, pitched to a 4.02 ERA in 12 starts around elbow trouble last season. From 2018-21, he was one of the best pitchers in the game, posting a 2.82 ERA that was 46% better than the average pitcher once adjusted for ballpark and the league's offensive environment. Buehler also has a career 2.94 ERA in 15 postseason starts.

The Dodgers have dealt with rotation trouble all season. Dustin May has not pitched since May and he underwent season-ending elbow surgery in July. Tony Gonsolin missed the start of the season with an ankle injury, labored through 20 starts, then had Tommy John surgery last month. Julio Urías is having a down year as well.

Despite that, Los Angeles enters play Sunday with a 13.5-game lead in the NL West. Buehler, who had first Tommy John surgery soon after being drafted in 2015, would be an enormous lift entering the postseason even if he is limited to 3-4 innings at a time. A few innings of Buehler is better than a lot of innings of most pitchers.

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