Rehabbing pitcher Dustin May sets sights on his return to Dodgers. But when?

·5 min read
Los Angeles Dodgers' Dustin May pitches in the first inning of a spring training baseball game.
Dodgers' Dustin May pitches in the first inning of a spring training game against the San Diego Padres on March 20, 2021, in Peoria, Ariz. The rehabbing pitcher hopes to return to the roster before the regular season ends. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

His perspective really hasn’t changed.

After more than a year-long process of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, however, Dustin May’s patience sure has grown.

“Going through the rehab and everything, you definitely have to have a lot of that,” May said recently. “Because there’s no speeding it up. There’s only slowing it down.”

Finally, though, the 24-year-old Dodgers pitcher is inching toward the finish line — and a long-awaited comeback at the major league level.

Over the last three weeks, May has been with the Dodgers triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City on a rehab assignment. He’s worked his way from two to three to four innings in a trio of promising starts.

While he likely will need two more rehab starts before being activated again, the Dodgers will evaluate his progress after the next one to see where he stands and when he possibly could return.

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

May has been out since suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament early last season — just as his big league career seemed to be taking flight.

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

He had a 2.53 ERA in April. His electric fastball-sinker-curveball arsenal was looking as sharp as ever and he appeared to be blossoming as the Dodgers’ next top talent on the mound.

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

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

But then, in the same way he mentally locked in on each start day while healthy, he tried to narrow his focus for the long road ahead.

“You’ve got to do everything in your power to not have any setbacks and allow that to get into your head. Like, ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’ No. I am going to be able to do this … I didn’t let myself get down about it.”

The right-hander began his throwing progression this spring. By June, he was facing hitters.

His daily routine at the Dodgers’ Arizona team facilities was simple: Throwing in the morning, weightlifting and conditioning in the afternoon and lying low at home the rest of the day — “I watched a lot more TV and movies,” he said — until coming back in the morning and doing it all over again.

Over time, he started feeling like his old self again.

Dodgers pitcher Dustin May throws to a San Diego Padres.
Dodgers pitcher Dustin May throws to 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 get-go that I wasn’t going to be back until this point,” May said. “So in my head, it didn’t matter how monotonous it got. It was just part of the process.”

Recently, May has been taking more exciting steps.

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

“It was probably the best we’ve seen his stuff,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior said. “It was pretty nasty. A lot of really awkward swings. A lot of swing and miss.”

May pitched four innings in a game last week, when he continued to flash near triple-digit velocity and is scheduled to go at least four innings again when he takes the mound Tuesday.

The team will decide after that outing whether he needs more rehab time or if he’s ready to come back to the majors.

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

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

He hasn’t allowed himself to imagine what it will feel like when he makes his long-awaited return.

“I have to get to that day first,” he said. “I gotta get through my starts here in Oklahoma City, and then probably once I get through my last one and know the day I’m going to be coming back, then I’ll probably get super excited about it.”

Already his progress has excited an organization currently battling pitching injuries and hoping his return will help bolster the staff.

“He has good stuff, he's pitched in big spots,” manager Dave Roberts said.

“No one's asking him to go out there and throw a no-hitter,” Roberts added. “But the stuff … I'll certainly bet on Dustin and the results."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.