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Gagne's season in doubt with surgery looming

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.

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."

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.