After shoulder surgery, Dylan Lee can finally pitch like himself again

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Dylan Lee throws in the bullpen during the first full-squad spring training workout at CoolToday Park, Feb. 20, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Dylan Lee throws in the bullpen during the first full-squad spring training workout at CoolToday Park, Feb. 20, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

NORTH PORT, Fla. – The most important day of Dylan Lee’s future might be Sept. 19, 2023.

On that day, Lee underwent left shoulder surgery. In the clean-up procedure, the surgeon removed debris from Lee’s shoulder and freed the pitcher from the pain he tried to fight through all season.

“It was limiting my ability to pitch and finish my pitches,” Lee said. “I knew that I would be fighting an uphill battle if I’d never gotten it taken care of.”

What the outside world saw: 4.18 ERA over 23-2/3 innings.

Reality: Lee pitched through debris in his shoulder. Aware something was amiss, he battled to stay healthy and perform his best.

Eventually, it became too much. He was compensating too much because his shoulder hurt badly. He dropped his arm slot. Soon, other problems arose.

“That’s something that came into mind, is when other things started to kind of tighten up on me, I had to shut it down,” Lee said. “Because I was like, ‘OK, I can deal with just the shoulder stuff.’ But then once I started feeling stuff in my bicep, just tightness, and forearm, I was like, ‘OK, we gotta shut it down.’”

In May, Lee went on the injured list with left shoulder inflammation. He didn’t pitch in the major leagues again until September.

Lee’s shoulder began bothering him in the offseason prior to 2023. He tried to stay on top of it during spring training last year. He didn’t feel great, but he pitched well enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. He felt fine in April, but on May 10, he started a game against Boston – and went 2-2/3 innings – and noticed it had gotten bad.

After his injured-list stint, he pitched in four games in September. It became clear what he needed to do.

“That’s when I knew I had to shut it down, too, is things were going bad and I was like, ‘I’m hurting the team, and I don’t want to hurt the team (int terms of) maybe not winning the division or winning a playoff game,’” Lee recalled. “So I knew I had to not be selfish and take my lickins.”

Now, Lee is in camp hoping to win a roster spot again. He is beginning to feel like himself again. He is feeling well physically.

What could a healthy Lee mean for Atlanta?

Let A.J. Minter, one of his fellow relievers, explain why he can be so good.

“People don’t realize how elite his fastball is,” Minter said. “It might not jump off the radar gun, but his (vertical movement) is elite, elite – above major-league average. That’s what people don’t realize, is 93 (mph) plays 97. Two, with the slider, the slider kind of came out of nowhere. The slider is very elite, has very elite swing-and-miss numbers. He might not jump off on the radar gun and have super sexy stuff, but he just continues to throw strikes, get ahead in the count and makes hitters look stupid sometimes.”

If you’ve ever talked to Lee, you know he’s pretty chill. Nothing seems to bother him. Good or bad, he shrugs it off.

This might be among the most important qualities for a reliever. The guys in the bullpen have ups and downs. Their jobs are zero or hero.

“He’s just even-keel,” Minter said of Lee. The situation never gets too big for him. He always has a super simple mindset: Come in and throw strikes.”

In 2022, Lee posted a 2.13 ERA over 50-2/3 innings, with 59 strikeouts. And in 2021, Lee pitched in three postseason games, including two in the World Series. He came out of nowhere and put himself on the radar.

Perhaps he can do it again.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting him out there and building him back up,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s another one that’s done a really good job for us in the past, and we’ll get him out there and healthy. It just is another one to add to your arsenal.”

It seems like Lee would be a favorite to win a bullpen spot if he stays healthy. At this point, he expects to be ready for Opening Day. But he also must pitch well to break camp with the team.

“There’s a lot of good guys in camp, a lot of lefties in camp, and I just gotta earn a spot, like I do every year,” Lee said.

A year ago, Lee couldn’t be himself because the pain became too much. He tried, but eventually needed to handle it for good. This doesn’t mean Lee won’t ever suffer another injury, but the shoulder procedure gave him a fresh arm.

Looking back, surgery was the best outcome.

“I know people all the time say that a lot of throwers have stuff going on in their shoulders, and I know I had something going on,” Lee said. “And then the year went on and I was like, ‘OK, this isn’t just normal soreness, so we gotta get it taken care of.’ And I’m glad I did, because now I feel like I’m back to normal. It’s normal soreness instead of hurting.”