- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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BOSTON -- Manager Joe Torre and the Los Angeles Dodgers' major league coaching staff still haven't been able to get into contact with longtime pitching prospect Scott Elbert, who was given permission earlier this month to leave the team's Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate shortly after he was demoted at the end of a two-day big league call-up May 30.
It was earlier reported that the entire Dodgers organization had not been in touch, but in fact only Torre and the coaching staff haven't been able to reach him.
The team said Elbert's abrupt departure was because of a family issue.
Torre said before Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox that he suspects it had more to do with professional frustrations. Elbert, the Dodgers' first-round draft pick six years ago, was 1-1 with a 4.98 ERA in nine starts for Albuquerque.
"I think [the family issue] is included," Torre said. "But I'm sure the fact he hasn't done well professionally at this point in time sort of magnifies everything else. When you have a family and you're getting pulled from that side, and this game is tough even when you're totally focused on what you are doing, sometimes it becomes a little bit more than you're prepared to handle."
Torre said Dodgers bullpen coach Ken Howell, who routinely keeps in contact with most of the club's top minor league pitchers, has attempted to call or text Elbert several times but hasn't received a response. One Dodgers player who is close to Elbert said a couple of weeks ago that Elbert wasn't responding to texts or messages from other players, either.
Torre said he planned to try to call Elbert in the coming days.
"Sometimes the pressures of this game, especially when they sort of pile up on you, sometimes you just have to get away," Torre said.
Elbert's absence isn't really contributing to the Dodgers' current starting pitching problems, but his absence and his ineffectiveness before he left are a part of the organization's overall lack of depth.
Rookie right-hander Carlos Monasterios went on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a blister and split nail on his pitching hand. Vicente Padilla came off the DL Saturday, but the Dodgers are still left without a fifth starter. They won't need one until next Saturday's game with the New York Yankees, although they could slot someone in sooner if Padilla or Hiroki Kuroda need an extra day between starts.
Torre said recently signed major league veteran Claudio Vargas, who gave up a run on two hits over three innings in his first start for Albuquerque on Thursday night against Omaha, is a candidate to take the open spot.
"Vargas is a possibility," Torre said. "His name has been talked about. My understanding is he can throw probably 75 pitches this next go-round."
The Dodgers continue to look for pitching from outside the organization, but their ability to take on a big contract is questionable. And although the Dodgers' farm system is deep at the lower levels, the club doesn't have a lot of major league-ready prospects.
Right-hander Chad Billingsley, who went onto the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with right-groin strain, is progressing well and will throw off a mound for the first time either Tuesday or Wednesday. He will be eligible to return on June 27, and while all signs seem to point to him doing so and Billingsley isn't expected to need a minor league rehabilitation assignment, Torre said it isn't a given and that he would reserve judgment until seeing Billingsley throw from a mound.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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