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Dodgers: There is Good Reason to Believe Corey Knebel Can Be Elite Again

Knebel talks about his return from Tommy John surgery and what he has done differently.



Corey Knebel made a name for himself with the Dodgers two seasons ago in the NLCS. With the arms that were coming out of the Milwaukee bullpen at the time, no one thought much of the 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher. 

Knebel was coming off of a 2018 season in which he appeared to have regressed. His fastball picked up some velocity and his strikeout percentage was up, but he was also getting barreled way more often. Knebel would go on to make 6 appearances against the Dodgers that series while absolutely blowing batters away. He struck out 10 in 7 innings and was charged with just 1 run. 

Knebel started to go downhill quickly after having Tommy John surgery before the 2019 season. His attempted return during the 2020 season only seemed to highlight the fact that he was still not 100 percent. His fastball was down to just 94 mph and his spin rates saw a little of a dip by some metrics. Regardless of what happened, the Dodgers scooped him up. 

Something from that 2018 series must have spoken to them because the Dodgers made the trade and committed to Knebel immediately. Los Angeles went on to seal the deal by paying him just a little over $5 million in arbitration. From what Knebel has said about the last 2 years, there’s reason to believe he is on the right track. 

I don’t feel like I put myself in a situation to succeed last year. Basically, I was trying to learn how to throw again. … I was rehabbing, trying to get my arm back into shape, and by doing that I might have sacrificed some other things, like hip mobility, hamstring strength, my release, how I was landing. It wasn’t ideal.

If anyone can get an injured pitcher back on track, it’s the Dodgers. The franchise has made a name acquiring pitchers that are coming off of serious injuries and getting them on the right path. If they can get Knebel even close to his 2017 form, that bullpen will be terrifying. 

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Written by Brook Smith

Brook is the Senior Editor of Dodgers Nation, with several years of experience in sports journalism. He is an avid Dodgers and Lakers fan, and can be spotted fairly often at Dodger Stadium and Staples Center.

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  1. Optimism is a good thing. But right now there is no reason to be either optimistic or pessimistic about what Knebel with offer the Dodgers when he comes back. Let’s just leave it at that.

  2. I am optimistic about Knebel in 2021. It takes 2 years to fully recover from TJ surgery and regain your prior form as a pitcher. However, no matter how well he pitches, he will will be restricted on pitch count and appearances. Pitch counts are not as big a deal for relievers, but appearances are. He will be nursed along all year. If all goes well, he could be a real factor in the postseason.

    • i agree. it took ryu and seager two years to get back to elite. the dodger trainers and rehab team are the best in the business and play percentages on these rehab projects.

  3. Daughter is a PT for Olympic and Professional athletes in SoCal area. She knows the Dodger medical & rehabilitation staff and says they are one of the top groups in the country. She says major injuries and resulting surgeries take from 1-2 years to get back to the level they were at before. The biggest challenge is to not have the athlete hurt themselves by attempting to drive past the pain and rehab more than is helpful. Knebel probably, like many elite athletes, came back too soon.
    The extra time since his surgery should allow Knebel to be able to get back to his previous performance levels. The great news is he has proven to have the mental aspect needed for a closer. A guy that wants the ball and has proven he can shut down a team in crunch time.

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