LOS ANGELES – While Caleb Ferguson was going through the monotonous, seemingly never-ending months of rehab that followed Tommy John surgery – his second – he compared it to climbing a mountain when you can’t even see the top.
Dustin May is nearing the summit.
The 24-year-old right-hander underwent the elbow ligament replacement procedure in May 2021. Fifteen months later, he is scheduled to make his fifth start on a minor-league injury-rehabilitation assignment – fourth with Triple-A Oklahoma City – this week.
May was expected to make one more after this but the latest back injury suffered by Clayton Kershaw has left an opening in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team will re-evaluate May’s status after his start this week and determine whether another outing with OKC will be necessary before he returns to the major leagues.
“I tried to stay far away from looking … for the light at the end of the tunnel,” May said recently. “But now that I’m at this point and I’m in games it’s definitely within reach, so I’m definitely getting more excited about that.”
May admits the long rehab process tested his patience. But, to his surprise, he was up to the test.
“I have figured out that I’m a lot more patient person than I thought that I was before,” he said. “Being able to do the same thing every day and not get irritated with the process and telling myself there’s no speeding it up, there’s only slowing it down. Just being able to go out and be able to do the same thing every day and not get irritated about it, I liked that I was able to stay level-headed about that and not try to rush the process.”
The Dodgers’ patience has been tested as well. May had begun to harness his dynamic stuff before his injury. In four April starts last year, he had a 2.53 ERA, a .188 average against and 32 strikeouts in 21 ⅓ innings.
The team — and its fans — have been pointing to May’s return with anticipation for some time now. But expecting him to be that same pitcher immediately after returning from 15 months away might be unfair.
“The expectation for us in the organization is that he’s gonna be back and be able to take down some innings,” Roberts said. “No one’s asking him to go out there and throw a no-hitter. He has good stuff. He’s pitched in big spots. Our expectation, excitement is just getting him back. I don’t have any expectation on the results. I just know that he’s a very talented player and he’s gonna help our ballclub.”
All the reports from May’s rehab outings have been positive. His fastball velocity quickly returned to its 100-mph neighborhood and May has allowed only seven hits while striking out 18 in 11 innings since returning to game action.
“The high-end stuff is in place,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “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. Exactly how that works, we’ll be able to take a little bit of time to find that out. But everything we’ve seen to this point has been incredibly encouraging.”
James Outman can testify to that as an eyewitness. He played right field for May’s first two starts at OKC before Outman got his brief promotion to the Dodgers.
“I probably had the worst view on the field,” Outman said. “But he threw hard and guys had ugly swings against him.
“He’s got disgusting stuff.”
May said he hasn’t been checking the radar gun for validation. But he admits “I’ve got no complaints” about how things have gone since getting back into games.
“I would say it feels about as normal as it could,” he said. “For me, I’ve felt pretty good for most of the process.
“Kind of since probably a month ago, something just clicked. It all just kind of synced up and everything has just kind of been going very smoothly. I would say the command is right there with it. I would say everything feels about as good as it could. I’m excited to get this next month going and hopefully be with the team as soon as possible.”
Depending on how soon his rehab assignment ends, May could make seven or eight starts with the Dodgers before the end of the regular season. Those starts could go a long way toward determining May’s role in the postseason.
The Dodgers could have as many as seven starting pitchers to choose from heading into the postseason – Julio Urias, Tyler Anderson, Tony Gonsolin, Andrew Heaney, Walker Buehler, Kershaw and May (the latter three all currently recovering from injury). Some are candidates to pitch out of the bullpen instead. With his overpowering stuff, May could be quite a weapon out of the bullpen.
“I mean, I view myself as a starter as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that as long as I can,” May said. “But as we all know, once the postseason rolls around, you throw your best three (starters) out there that you think are going to get the job done and you just kind of shove everybody else in the ‘pen.
“I’m fine either way, as I’ve said in the past. It would be nice to start but it’s also nice to pitch out of the ‘pen and contribute in any way possible. I have open ears and eyes to whatever comes my way.”
The Dodgers claimed infielder Rylan Bannon on waivers from the Baltimore Orioles. An eighth-round draft pick out of Xavier in 2017, Bannon was one of the five players the Dodgers sent to the Orioles in exchange for Manny Machado in 2018. Bannon, 26, made his major-league debut in May and went 2 for 14 in four games. He was assigned to OKC. …
Outfielder Kevin Pillar has moved his rehab from shoulder surgery to Camelback Ranch where he has been cleared to begin baseball activities. Pillar is optimistic he can return before the end of this season.
Twins (RHP Joe Ryan, 8-4, 3.67 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Julio Urias, 11-6, 2.57 ERA), Tuesday, 7:10 p.m., SportsNet LA, 570 AM