Rehabbing Dustin May sets sights on his return to Dodgers

His perspective hasn’t really changed.

However, after more than a year of rehab following Tommy John’s surgery, Dustin May’s patience has grown.

“Through rehab and everything, you definitely have to have a lot of that,” May said recently. “Because there is no acceleration. It just slows it down.”

Finally, the 24-year-old Dodgers pitcher is nearing the finish line — and a long-awaited comeback in the major leagues.

For the past three weeks, May has been in rehab with the Dodgers’ Triple-A daughter in Oklahoma City. He’s worked his way up from two to three to four innings in a trio of promising starts.

While he’ll likely need two more starts in rehab before he’s activated again, the Dodgers will be evaluating his progress after the next to see where he stands and when he could potentially return.

“I’m just trying to come back and show that I’m healthy,” May said. “Prove I can get out there and help the team as much as I can.”

May has been out since tearing his ulna collateral ligament earlier last season – just as his big league career seemed to be taking off.

After making an impression as a rookie in 2019 and a sub-3.00 ERA as a member of the Dodgers rotation as a member of the Dodgers rotation during their World Series-winning season in a pandemic-shortened 2020, May had his first full-length MLB campaign last year started well.

He had a 2.53 ERA in April. His electric fastball-sinker-curveball arsenal looked as good as ever and he seemed to be blossoming as the Dodgers’ next top talent up the hill.

Then, in a game in Milwaukee against the Brewers, he grimaced in pain after a throw in the second inning. He immediately called for a trainer. He hasn’t played in a major league game since then.

He immediately realized that he had suffered a serious injury. In the two weeks leading up to the surgery, he admitted he couldn’t help but feel “pretty upset about it”.

But then, in the same way he mentally tuned into each starting day while he was healthy, he tried to focus on the long road ahead.

“You have to do everything in your power not to experience setbacks and put your mind to it. Like, ‘Will I make it?’ no I’ll be able to do that…I didn’t let that get me down.”

The right-hander started his throwing progression this spring. By June, he faced hitters.

His daily routine at the Dodgers’ Arizona team facilities was simple: throwing in the morning, lifting weights and conditioning in the afternoon, and lying at home the rest of the day — “I watched a lot more TV and movies,” he said — coming back until morning and all that do once.

Over time he felt like the old man again.

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May throws to a San Diego Padres.

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May throws at a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 2021.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

“I told myself from the start that I wasn’t going to come back until this point,” May said. “So in my mind, it didn’t matter how monotonous it got. It was just part of the process.”

More recently, May has made more exciting moves.

He pitched his first game in Oklahoma City on July 22, giving up a run in two innings. He stretched to three innings on the next start and batted out six without giving up a run.

“It was probably the best thing we’ve seen of him,” said Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior. “It was pretty bad. Lots of really awkward swings. Lots of swing and miss.”

May pitched four innings in a game last week as he continued to blitz near triple-digit speed and is expected to play at least four innings again when he takes the mound on Tuesday.

The team will decide after this outing if he needs more rehab time or if he’s ready to return to the majors.

“The high-end stuff is there,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said last week. “Now I think it’s just the last mile of execution and getting everything in order and building up to the point where he can take down a pretty normal starter workload.”

May said he was trying not to think about his possible role in the Dodgers’ postseason push. The plan is to bring him back as a starter when he first comes back, but it’s undetermined how he might be used in the playoffs.

He hasn’t allowed himself to imagine how it will feel when he celebrates his long-awaited return.

“I have to get to that day first,” he said. “I’ve got to get through my beginnings here in Oklahoma City, and then when I get through my last one and know what day I’m coming back, I’ll probably be very happy about it.”

His advances have already excited an organization currently struggling with pitching injuries and hope his return will help strengthen the staff.

“He’s got good stuff, he’s hit big places,” said manager Dave Roberts.

“Nobody’s asking him to go out there and throw a no-hitter,” Roberts added. “But that stuff…I’ll certainly bet on Dustin and the results.” Rehabbing Dustin May sets sights on his return to Dodgers

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