GLENDALE, Ariz. — As he goes through the long rehab process following his Tommy John surgery in August, Walker Buehler has the unique perspective of a previous Tommy John surgery and recovery to compare.
“I feel pretty good with where I’m at,” said the right-hander, who also underwent the ligament-replacement surgery shortly after he was drafted by the Dodgers in 2015.
“Really, I don’t remember a ton about how I felt or whatever (during the first rehab). But I feel good that we’re on track to throw right around that six-month mark. I know with the second one, that can kind of be a little bit longer process. But all the numbers and strength and all that seem to be where they need to be.”
Buehler should start his throwing program in the next two weeks with a limited number of tosses while playing catch. The biggest question for any pitcher rehabbing from a Tommy John surgery, however, is not how it’s going – but when will it end.
In Buehler’s case, the Dodgers hold out hope that Buehler could return to pitch before the end of the 2023 season. The standard recovery time for Tommy John surgery is 12 to 15 months. Dustin May had a relatively setback-free recovery from his May 2021 surgery and returned to a mound 14 months later in the Arizona Summer League, then made his first major-league start a month later on Aug. 20.
A return before the end of the 2023 season would put Buehler on the aggressive end of that 12-to-15-month window.
“The first time was a 12-month rehab kind of right on the nose, so I don’t see any reason not to kind of target that, right?” Buehler said. “I definitely hope I pitch this year. That’s certainly my plan and, I think barring any real setback, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to pitch.
“If it’s on the 15(-month end), then I probably won’t pitch this year. But that’s not my call. … I think in the grand scheme of it, it’s kind of the surgery’s decision. If I’m healthy and the timeline says I can pitch, I’m going to pitch. I’m not going to wait another six months (until the 2024 season) to pitch if I don’t have to.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts characterized the outlook now as “hopeful.”
“I think with Walker, he’s a special athlete,” Robert said. “So I’m hopeful. I know Walker is.”
Freddie Freeman reported to Dodgers camp Friday, but he will be leaving soon to join Team Canada in preparing for the World Baseball Classic. Born and raised in Orange County, Freeman is eligible to play for the Canadian team because both of his parents were born in Canada.
He chooses to play for Canada as a tribute to his mother, Rosemary, who died of melanoma when Freddie was young.
“It means a lot (to play for Canada) if you know my story,” Freeman said Saturday. “My mom passed when I was 10. So I do it to honor my mother.”
Both of the Dodgers’ big-league catchers will be leaving camp to participate in the World Baseball Classic – Will Smith with Team USA, Austin Barnes with Team Mexico. That should open playing time during the Cactus League schedule for top prospect Diego Cartaya.
“I think it’s great for Diego,” Roberts said. “It’s an opportunity that Diego normally wouldn’t get, a young prospect catcher to get a lot of repetitions with major-league players. I think this is certainly a blessing for him and a good opportunity.”
Coming off his first full season in the minors after playing 95 games at the Class-A level last year, the 21-year-old Cartaya is in the Top 20 of every prospect ranking.
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“Skill set aside, his maturity is something that really stands out,” Roberts said of Cartaya, who was added to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster for the first time last fall. “He’s not in awe of being around this environment. He’s very curious. He asks the right questions. He’s watching. There’s certainly things with the bat that need to get cleaned up, that will get cleaned up just with at-bats.
“Just the way he carries himself, it just looks right. People have a hard time understanding what that means. But as an evaluator, as a coach, it just looks right.”