Dodgers News: Gus Varland Learning From ‘Wild Year’

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As the 2022 season came to an end, Gus Varland was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, pitching for Double-A Tulsa to close out the year.

That changed on July 7, 2022, when the Milwaukee Brewers selected Varland in the Rule 5 Draft, which is designed to give players a chance to carve out roles in different organizations if they are blocked in their current system.

That was the beginning of what Varland described as a “wild, wild year,” that has seen him change organizations twice, suffer an injury and still saw him make his Major League debut.

Due to the nature of the Rule 5 Draft, Varland needed to make the Brewers’ Opening Day roster and stay up with the team for the remainder of the season, or else he would be offered back to the Dodgers.

The Brewers decided to carry Varland on their roster, making him one of the rare players to make the jump from Double-A to the Majors. The right-hander had a nice start to the year, throwing 6.2 innings in March and April while giving up just two earned runs.

However, on April 15, Varland was hit in his face and hand by a comebacker that forced him to miss nearly a month of the season.

“It kind of messed me up a little bit mechanically and a little mentally,” Varland said. “It’s kind of hard to come back from that.”

To make matters worse, Varland was hit again on his rehab assignment, this time on his other hand. “It was brutal,” he said.

The injury could have been a lot worse physically, and Varland was lucky to avoid anything more significant with both of them, but it still created that mental hurdle to overcome.

“I didn’t expect it at all and it’s just something you just got to get past and move forward from,” Varland said. “But physically, it wasn’t that bad at all. I didn’t have a concussion, didn’t have a broken bone, thank god, just a little bruise.”

When Varland returned to the Brewers, he pitched 1.1 scoreless innings against the Dodgers, but walked three hitters and hit another. His next outing, Varland gave up nine runs while recording just two outs to the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was designated for assignment the following day.

“Obviously it showed in the last few outings with the Brewers and eventually got DFA’d because of it,” Varland said of the injury. “But it’s the way she goes and I’ve learned from it and overcame it.”

While being designated for assignment is not something any players wants to go through, Varland still found his experience with the Brewers to be beneficial. “The Brewers picked me and gave me a good opportunity,” he said.

“Made the team, had fun up there, did well, learned a lot of things and went back to Triple-A after I got sent back and worked on things I knew I needed to work and had some success to get an opportunity here.”

Like the Dodgers, the Brewers also have a strong pitching development system that taught Varland more about the best way he can approach each hitter and trying to get his strengths to match up with their weaknesses.

Despite his disappointment, Varland decided to make the best of his situation with the chance to return to his former organization and prove he belongs.

“I wasn’t too mad about it,” Varland added. “I mean, that’s just part of the game. I had no options and they’re in first place. That’s just the way she goes.

“And when I got to go back to Triple-A with all my friends on the Dodgers, I was on a win-win no matter what. So I just went at it with everything I had and I have no regrets.”

He now gets the opportunity to pitch for the Dodgers this season after he was called up to replace Joe Kelly, who was put on the 15-day injured list with right forearm/elbow inflammation.

Varland’s previous experience has him feeling more comfortable and he knows he can compete at the Major League level. It’s now just about putting it all together and proving to the Dodgers he can help them win games.

“It’s really good to kind of know what’s going on a little bit rather than being fresh into it,” Varland said. “And also like having a little stint up there and having some success in the early outings showed me I can compete up here and I know what to do to stay here and whatnot.”

Gus Varland improved mechanics with Drillers last season

Varland was a starter when he first made his professional debut in the Oakland Athletics organization in 2018, and he remained in that role until 2022, when the Dodgers made him a relief pitcher.

The numbers weren’t entirely encouraging from the run prevention standpoint, but Varland showed some intriguing traits that made the Brewers want to select him in the Rule 5 Draft and put him on track to make his MLB debut.

“What made me change to have the most success, especially last year in Double-A when I went from starter or reliever, was the mechanical changes I made in my delivery to be more consistent, more powerful and just more a different mentality of just attacking the zone and not being scared of any hitter,” Varland explained.

“The people that helped me with that was Luis Vasquez in the bullpen in Double-A in Tulsa and Ryan Dennick, the head pitching coach there. Those two guys changed my career during that day.”

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