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It wasn’t the worst-case scenario, but it certainly wasn’t good news either.
A night after exiting a start early because of right elbow discomfort, Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler was diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain Saturday and put on the injured list after undergoing an MRI in Los Angeles.
According to manager Dave Roberts, Buehler will be shut down from throwing for six to eight weeks, then will have to rebuild arm strength and stamina, as if it were the start of spring training.
As of now, the team expects Buehler to pitch again this season. But given his timeline, it means he probably won’t be ready until the latter-third of the season — perhaps as late as sometime in September.
“Certainly,” Roberts said, “it’s gonna be a while.”
Buehler was injured during his start against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night, when he said something “grabbed” in his elbow while he threw a breaking ball in the third inning.
The right-hander initially tried pitching through the discomfort but eventually exited the game after the fourth inning when the sensation didn’t go away.
“This was just a little bit different,” said Buehler, who added he has regularly experienced various feelings in his elbow ever since he underwent Tommy John surgery as a prospect in 2015. “[It is] something we need to check out.”
While Buehler was perhaps the most talented pitcher on the Dodgers’ staff, he was in the midst of an inconsistent start to the season before his injury.
His ERA was 4.02, the highest it has been through 12 starts in his career. His strikeout rate and walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) were at career-worst levels. And he had pitched into the seventh inning only twice, something he had done with regularity last season.
Buehler said his elbow injury wasn’t to blame for his subpar performance, though, and didn’t even believe it impacted his pitches at the end of Friday’s start.
“I'm not a person that’s going to blame that,” he said.
Roberts agreed with that assessment Saturday. The manager also said that, while Buehler had been tinkering with his mechanics in recent weeks in search of more productive results, he couldn’t say whether it had any impact on Friday’s injury.
“I don’t know if that triggered [it],” Roberts said. “I don’t know if anybody knows.”
What the Dodgers do know is that, for at least the foreseeable future, their rotation will be without its opening day starter and supposed 27-year-old ace — a pitcher whom, up until his elbow started to hurt Friday, they were still heavily counting on this season.
“We're certainly better with Walker,” Roberts said. “But that's not going to be for quite some time."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.