Walker Buehler on His Return to the Los Angeles Dodgers

On a recent episode of the Just Baseball Show, Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler previewed his upcoming return to the MLB mound.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 17: Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates after retiring the side with the bases loaded against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning in Game Six of the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field on October 17, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

For the first time since the middle of the 2022 campaign, Walker Buehler is expected to take the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night as they open a three-game series against the Miami Marlins at Chavez Ravine.

Buehler, sidelined since undergoing Tommy John surgery following a June 10, 2022, start in San Francisco against the Giants, will join a Dodgers rotation that has been solid in the early parts of 2024. Through the team’s first 34 games, Los Angeles is sixth among all MLB rotations with an opponents’ batting average of .222 and tied for seventh with a 3.41 ERA.

“The plan is Walker’s going to start on Monday,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters on Wednesday night in Phoenix. “We’re excited about that. Everything checked out. It’ll be good.”

Coming back from his second career Tommy John surgery, Buehler underwent a lengthy minor league rehab to prepare for Monday’s start, making five starts for Triple-A Oklahoma City and one for Low-A Rancho Cucamonga. In all, Buehler struck out 21 in 21.2 innings and posted a 4.15 ERA.

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On a recent edition of the Just Baseball Show, Buehler discussed the long rehab process with hosts Aram Leighton and Jack McMullen.

“It’s exciting,” said Buehler, who has been joining the show as a weekly guest for more than a year, of his return. “We’ve had a lengthy rehab. Six rehab starts might be a new record, but I’ve been trying to get some things under control and figure some things out.”

Below, we will break down some of his more interesting quotes from the interview. However, if you want to watch the whole episode with Buehler and his thoughts on returning to the MLB mound, as well as the automated strike zone he encountered during his minor league starts, simply click play on the video below.

Buehler’s Thoughts on the Automated Strike Zone

During those six minor league rehab starts, Buehler experienced the Automated Ball-Strike (ABS) system on a couple of occasions and shared his thoughts on that.

MLB pitchers on rehab assignments hurling under the ABS has come into focus lately, as our own West Jones asked Texas Rangers starter Max Scherzer about following his recent Triple-A rehab outing. Scherzer told Jones and other reporters that he was “not a fan” of the automated system and Buehler shared some of those same emotions.

“I like the idea that it is consistent and it doesn’t make mistakes,” Buehler said as part of a very in-depth discussion on the topic with Leighton and McMullen. “However, I know in the game in Albuquerque, I think there were eight or nine guys who pitched in that game and there were two of us that were over 50 percent strikes which, for nine high-level professional baseball players, that probably doesn’t happen very often, so I think that’s the first piece of evidence.”

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Buehler also went on to discuss the changes that he has heard from other pitchers that have happened with ABS from last year to this year and his experience with the “new” automated strike zone.

“It really makes you feel like you have to throw everything down the middle,” said Buehler, who also discusses the positives and negatives of the “human element” being included in baseball.

Buehler also discusses how the automated strike zone could lessen the value placed on catchers who are working to improve their defense, including his battery mates in Los Angeles, Austin Barnes and Will Smith.

“I think it would be hard to say they (catchers) aren’t being devalued because it’s not like it’s not as important, but it’s irrelevant in that system,” Buehler said. “Stop the ball is all they have to do.

“Catching at a high level and framing at a high level is such an important skill and it’s so valuable,” Buehler said.

Buehler on Rejoining the Dodgers

When he returns on Monday, Buehler will take his place in a rotation that looks much different than the one who he was a part of in 2022. Among the big changes are the additions of Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, as well as the absence of Clayton Kershaw, who is recovering from left shoulder surgery but is expected to be back with the Dodgers this season.

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“For me, the biggest thing is that I hope I can go and perform and be really good and help lead this staff,” the 29-year-old right-hander said. “Me and Clayton, I think, have been there the longest of all the guys on our staff and to get both of us back at some point this year, I’m really looking forward to.”

Buehler has been watching from afar while working through his rehab outings, but he says he is ready to try to fit into the “machine,” as he called the current Dodgers rotation.

“At some point, you go through these rehabs and it’s largely about how you feel and how the ball’s coming out,” Buehler said. “Performance is probably secondary. Being great in rehab starts doesn’t mean you’re going to be great when you get back and being horrible doesn’t mean you’re going to be horrible.”

Buehler added that he returned a bit ahead of schedule, with a goal of a mid-May return hoped for by both him and the organization.

“Largely, I think I just want to be treated like one of our guys,” Buehler said. “I’d like to be able to throw 90 to 100 pitches and be pretty standard at the end of the year.”