Gagne's season in doubt with surgery looming

Updated: April 7, 2006, 5:05 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers closer Eric Gagne will have surgery Friday to remove a nerve from his pitching elbow -- his second arm operation in less than a year -- leaving his season in doubt.

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The conventional wisdom all winter was that the Dodgers had improved themselves, but that they had a roster packed with players bearing an increased risk for injury. And in the first week of the season, Nomar Garciaparra, Kenny Lofton and Gagne have all gone down. L.A. is going to need help from its teeming farm system sooner than anybody expected. Story

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Dodgers trainer Stan Johnston said on a conference call Thursday night there was no immediate timetable for the return of Gagne, who saved 152 games from 2002-04 and was a near-unanimous winner of the NL Cy Young Award in 2003.

"I wouldn't say that," Johnston replied when asked if Gagne might miss the entire season. "After the surgeons get finished, there will be a timetable."

The surgery will be performed by Dr. Frank Jobe and Dr. Ralph Gambardella of the team's medical staff at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles. It's the same nerve that was moved during an operation last June.

Johnston said the nerve is barely under the skin.

Manager Grady Little told reporters Tuesday that a previously scheduled MRI on Gagne's elbow showed no irregularities.

"No problem there," Johnston said, which would seem to be good news.

"Last year's surgery, we were working on the ligament," Johnston said. "This will be just under the skin."

Johnston also said he believes Gagne will make a full recovery.

"I'm very disappointed because I thought this would be behind us," Gagne said in a statement issued through the team. "It was a decision where I wanted to be 100 percent and be myself and enjoy it because I can't pitch with that kind of pain."

Eric Gagne
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesGagne appeared in just 14 games in 2005, and may not see action at all in 2006.

The 30-year-old right-hander had a 1-0 record with a 2.70 ERA and eight saves in as many chances while appearing in 14 games last season. He didn't pitch in the Dodgers' first three games this year, sitting out an 11-10 season-opening loss Monday to Atlanta in a game Los Angeles never led, and serving a two-game suspension after that.

The Dodgers acquired proven closer Danys Baez from Tampa Bay during the offseason. Baez saved a career-high 41 games last season and pitched a scoreless ninth for a save in the team's lone victory so far this year, a 5-4 triumph over Atlanta on Tuesday night.

Gagne is earning $10 million this year and Baez is earning $4 million. Both are eligible for free agency after the season.

General manager Ned Colletti said the 28-year-old Baez was acquired to shore up the bullpen and give the Dodgers some security in case something like this happened.

"We obviously had no idea this was going to occur," Colletti said. "Eric pitched 14 games last year. We're all smart enough to know you don't know what you're going to get when the guy comes back.

"I know he wants to play, I know he battles every day to do it."

Johnston said Gagne told him Wednesday he had been pitching in pain all spring. The problem was diagnosed during an examination by Gambardella after that -- while the Dodgers were playing the Braves in the finale of a three-game series.

Gagne pitched in 10 games during the exhibition season, allowing five earned runs. He didn't seem to have any problems, but his velocity was down from his best days.

Little said earlier this spring that people shouldn't expect Gagne to be the same pitcher as he was in the past.

"I knew he wasn't close to what we had all seen," Little said on the conference call.

Gagne's last outing was Friday night in an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Gagne injured his knee during the first full-squad workout of spring training in 2004, and missed the first 35 games of the season after injuring his elbow. He underwent season-ending surgery on his elbow June 24.

Team spokesman Josh Rawitch said Gagne will be placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Saturday, and the Dodgers will purchase the contract of 36-year-old right-hander Takashi Saito from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Saito agreed to a minor league contract with the Dodgers in February. He spent most of his 14-year career with Yokohama Baystars in Japan's Central League, compiling an 87-78 record with 48 saves. Saito had a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings for the Dodgers during the exhibition season.

Gagne will be the third prominent Los Angeles player to go on the disabled list in the past week, joining newcomers Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra.

The Dodgers, idle Thursday, begin a three-game series Friday night in Philadelphia. Little said Baez will take over the closer's role, but he wasn't certain who would handle setup duties.

"We're going to try and get a feel for that in the next few days," Little said.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press