Dodgers’ Buehler faces live hitters for 1st time in latest step from surgery rehab

PHOENIX (AP) — Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler faced live batters Wednesday for the first time since having arm surgery more than a year ago.

The 29-year-old right-hander is trying to return from his second ligament replacement operation, which he underwent last August. He had his first Tommy John surgery in 2015, just after the Dodgers selected him in the first round of the MLB draft.

“It was good to get out there,” Buehler said of his outing at the Dodgers’ nearby Camelback Ranch facility, where the team holds spring training. “It was fine. Never going to be perfect the first time out there. Made some good pitches, and some bad ones.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts liked what he saw.

“It went really well. Much better than I expected. He used his entire pitch mix,” Roberts said before the game against the Diamondbacks. “Everything looked crisp. It was encouraging. (His fastball) was 92 to 93 mph, the cutter was 90, so the velocity was better than I expected.”

Buehler’s 2022 season ended on June 10. He finished 6-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 12 starts last season after going 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA in 2021.

“Almost 12 months of work now that we’ve done and some point you just kinda go with it,” Buehler said.

In May, he had set Sept. 1 as a target date for his return, and he’s on track to come back before the season ends — much faster than the usual timeframe.

“This surgery (for the second time) is 14-18 months so if I step on the field this year, I’ll have blown that out of the water. I’m pretty proud of where I am,” Buehler said.

In any case, Buehler appreciates where he is in his rehab work.

“Every year that we get to do this for a living is such a blessing. Being able to pitch on the mound would be a huge thing and make this season not a complete throwaway. It’s hard to take years off your career. You only get to do this for so long.”