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Walker Buehler Injury: Dodgers ace sidelined for six to eight weeks due to sprained elbow ligaments

The Los Angeles Dodgers lost twice on Friday night. They were outplayed by rivals San Francisco Giants in their 7-2 loss early in the series at Oracle Park (box score), and they also lost ace right-hander Walker Buehler to an elbow injury. Buehler went out after four innings and 70 pitches with what the Dodgers originally described as a right elbow problem. On Saturday, Buehler ended up on the injured list and underwent tests to determine the exact nature of his injury. According to manager Dave RobertsBühler has been diagnosed with a sprained ligament in his elbow and will be out of action for six to eight weeks. After he can resume throwing, he must ramp back up to ready-to-play. The team expects him to serve again this season, but in Robert’s words it will “take a while”. If you do the math, it could be September before Buehler is ready to rejoin the rotation, and that rules out setbacks.

“I had Tommy John surgery I think [the level of concern] is a bit elevated,” Buehler told MLB.com on Friday. “It is what it is. That’s what happens in this game. A lot of guys in this clubhouse have messed around with elbows. It’s part of this game. I have full confidence in our medical staff and so on. But before we do that, we need to know what we’re dealing with.”

Buehler, 27, underwent surgery by Tommy John shortly after his draft in 2015. He hasn’t had a significant elbow problem since, as his various stints on the MLB injury list were the result of a fractured rib and blisters. Buehler allowed three runs in four innings on Friday and is having a season well below his usual standards: 4.02 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP and 8.0 K/9 are all career-worst.

Walker Buehler

SP •

EPOCH4.02

WHIP1.29

IP65

bb17

K58

The discomfort surfaced after he threw a breaking ball in the third inning, Buehler said. He finished the inning and then pitched the fourth inning as well, but his elbow didn’t feel any better, so he was taken out of the game. Buehler admitted he’s struggled with mild elbow problems over the years, but it’s always been manageable. However, this injury appears to be worse than his previous elbow pain.

As noted in the baseball prospectus earlier this week, Buehler’s fastball hasn’t been quite right this season. His fastball has been a truly elite pitch throughout his career, although the spin and movement around the pitch aren’t the same this year and opponents are therefore punishing Buehler’s heating. Here are the numbers for Buehler’s four-seam fastball over the past few seasons:

2019

96.5 km/h

2,456 rpm

.205

.368

24.5%

2020

96.8 km/h

2,546 rpm

.102

.119

26.1%

2021

95.3 km/h

2,472 rpm

.202

.366

20.3%

2022

95.2km/h

2,267 rpm

.368

.618

13.2%

MLB average

93.9 km/h

2,260 rpm

.253

.429

21.5%

Buehler’s fastball spin rate declined after fighting foreign objects last year (2,611 rpm before and 2,349 rpm after) and the pitch hasn’t been as effective since. Whether this new elbow problem is related is unclear. Bottom line, Buehler and his fastball haven’t been right all season, and now he has a serious injury

“Certain inconveniences you can handle that tonight he clearly felt could be potentially more damaging,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told MLB.com. “I think that’s more – you definitely have to rely on a player of Walker’s intelligence and know his body.”

Los Angeles welcomed Clayton Kershaw back into the rotation on Saturday, and he allowed two runs over four innings in a 3-2 loss to the Giants. He missed about a month with a hip problem. The Dodgers should also bring Andrew Heaney back soon. Heaney made two excellent starts early in the season before going down with a shoulder problem. Losing Buehler for so long is undoubtedly a blow, but the return of Kershaw and Heaney should help.

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