LOS ANGELES—Looking back on his experience with Tommy John surgery, righthander Ross Stripling said one of the saddest days of his life came when he was left behind at extending spring training to rehab while everyone else left for minor league teams.
Righthander Walker Buehler can relate.
The 2015 first-round pick out of Vanderbilt had Tommy John surgery almost immediately following the draft and spent his first year as a professional pitcher not actually pitching.
“Especially when you get taken where I was taken, and you meet everyone and everyone meets you, and you get to know everyone—and then they leave,” Buehler said.
“It’s tough because you get drafted and you want to get momentum going and kind of jump out of the chute, but you’re down for a year . . . I think it’s more of mental challenge than it is physical.”
The 22-year-old finally made his pro debut near the end of 2016, pitching five innings in the Rookie-level Arizona League and then working in instructional league.
The year off from pitching allowed the slender, 6-foot-2 Buehler to focus on conditioning and add strength, among other things.
“I’m 25 pounds heavier than I was when I had the surgery and a year-and-change older and more mature from the surgery, I feel like,” he said. “I think the surgery simplifies things for you a lot in terms of not being so worried about every result or every pitch being good or bad. It’s just ‘Oh I feel good again.’ ”
Re-establishing that will be the focus of 2017 for Buehler, who faces innings limits imposed by the cautious Dodgers front office. Still, he ranks among the top prospects in a deep Dodgers system.
“I’ve had goals my whole life,” Buehler said. “Getting to pro ball was one, then getting to the big leagues (was next). We’ll see how it goes. This year it’s one where it’s kind of, ‘Make sure I’m healthy, make sure I feel well and try to move (up) and try to pitch well.’ ”
• The Dodgers traded second baseman/outfielder Micah Johnson to the Braves for a player to be named. The 26-year-old hit .261/.321/.356 at Triple-A Oklahoma City and led the club in stolen bases (26) and runs (72).
• The Dodgers signed 28-year-old Cuban second baseman Jose Miguel Fernandez to a minor league deal that included a $200,000 bonus.
— Bill Plunkett covers the Dodgers for the Orange County Register