The Dodgers are examining the wiring of their rotation possibilities

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Friday will be a modest milestone for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not after their valiant two-out, eighth-inning rally in their 10-5 comeback triumph at Petco Park, which dropped the San Diego Padres a stunning ten games back in the division. However, Walker Buehler toed the slab in a mostly empty warehouse at Titleist Performance Institute, covered head to toe in cables, due to a short field trip 45 minutes north to Oceanside.

Buehler had the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow replaced for the second time 346 days ago, putting to rest some of the nagging uncertainties and agony that had tormented him for months. It’s best not to put too much faith in Buehler to be a savior for a rotation that has struggled this season, or even to be ready for full-fledged starts. Because of the track record of two-time Tommy John recipients, caution is the default setting. Buehler has rejected that, instead announcing a bold Sept. 1 return date on a big-league mound. Friday provided at least one reason for optimism.

The 29-year-old right-hander has made enough improvement that he went to the off-campus location to ask further questions. Former big-league pitcher Tom House, a guru to pitchers, quarterbacks, and golfers alike in researching how the body moves, is on the institute’s staff. Buehler was interested what he could accomplish in front of House, Dr. Greg Rose, and Dodgers assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness to get his mechanics back to the efficient, electric force he was when he finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting in 2021.

So they strapped him up for a motion-capture session, which also served as one of the final checks before Buehler pitches for the first time against hitters next week. McGuiness believes their ideas will be invisible to the untrained eye. But what McGuiness witnessed made an effect on him.





“(He) looks like Walker,” McGuiness gushed.

Another facility client sat in wonder, then asked if he could step in and watch Buehler’s deliveries firsthand from the batter’s box.

As a result, Buehler’s first (unofficial) hitter after surgery was none other than reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm. The golf pro was impressed by Buehler’s accuracy. The 28-year-old Spaniard was blown away by his ability to manage a narrow strike zone while almost placing the ball on a tee.

Surely, Rahm would have been pleased with how nicely James Outman read the spin off Fernando Tatis Jr.’s bat on Friday night. The Padres slugger easily connected on a 100 mph pitch from Dodgers rookie starter Bobby Miller and nearly blasted the ball out of the park — until Outman leapt and grabbed it away. It was a foreshadowing of the kind of loud contact Miller would have to deal with all night.

Miller has provided the most hope among a rookie class of starters who arrived with great expectations but have experienced a slew of growing pains. Ryan Pepiot was named to the Opening Day rotation but has yet to throw a pitch this season. Gavin Stone pitched six no-hit innings and struck out ten batters for Oklahoma City on Friday night, but his first few appearances in the big leagues didn’t inspire much confidence. Michael Grove has been banged around in the rotation and might soon rejoin Emmet Sheehan, who was demoted back to the minors when the Dodgers reshuffled their bullpen. Landon Knack has yet to make his major league debut and has only made six Triple-A starts.

That leaves Miller as the best rookie left in this rotation after an evening in which he, too, had some growing pains.

“For Bobby, every start, the goal, and the expectation is that he takes something from it,” Dave Roberts said. “It was still a good outing for Bobby (tonight), but I still feel like there’s some growth in there (to be had).”

The right-hander displayed his customary premium velocity and allowed just two runs (one earned), but he was hit hard, ran extended counts, and negotiated traffic as he only went through San Diego’s order twice before being replaced by Roberts with two outs in the fourth inning. It was a fleeting appearance for a team that had gone 13 straight games without a day off. It’s one of several pivotal nights in Miller’s bid to be a part of the biggest nights in the next two months.

“The main goal is to be a ‘count-on’ guy when you’re out there,” Miller explained. “I just have to get better every time I go out there to become that ‘count-on’ guy.”

The Dodgers didn’t expect to have to rely on a rookie this spring. However, this is a rotation that entered the season with a 4.68 ERA, ranking 21st in the majors. They’ve struggled to miss bats, as McGuiness will point out. After ranking ninth in baseball with a strikeout rate of 23.9 percent from the rotation a year ago, that statistic has dipped to 21.6 percent.

They require responses. Even with Clayton Kershaw due back this week and a deadline period that added Lance Lynn and Ryan Yarbrough to the starting lineup but looked to promise so much more, this is a tough call. However, an agreement to acquire the Detroit Tigers’ Eduardo Rodriguez fell through Monday night when the left-hander invoked his no-trade clause (in part, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, because he wanted the Dodgers to add a year and $20 million to the remaining three years and $49 million he’d be owed if he didn’t use his opt-out this winter). Other attempts to obtain arms such as Justin Verlander, Jordan Montgomery, Dylan Cease, James Paxton, and even three-team agreements to land another starter proved futile.

If there’s any consolation for Los Angeles’ deadline, it’s that much of the rest of the division saw Tuesday pass without adding the type of impact talent the Dodgers appeared to be targeting.

So this is the last bunch. One that is now even more dependant on Kershaw’s health. Or on Julio Uras and Tony Gonsolin deciphering it. Or, with his MLB-leading 31 homers allowed, Lynn to start keeping the ball in the yard, and Yarbrough — a last-minute addition — to prosper even outside of the desolate AL Central.

And, yes, they must dream about Buehler as well. A relatively quiet deadline necessitates relying on internal improvements and favorable outcomes that even the most ardent optimist could find difficult to swallow without some heartburn relief medication.

At least on Friday, they were able to blast through it again, scoring five runs against Robert Suarez, a reliever who destroyed them in October. They added three more in the ninth as the Padres tripped over their own wires, giving the Dodgers yet another reason to smile.