Wade to miss at least three months
Reliever's surgery, bullpen uncertainty prompt opportunity
PHOENIX -- Dodgers reliever Cory Wade will undergo exploratory shoulder surgery Wednesday and be sidelined at least three months, but reliever Hong-Chih Kuo was able to play catch without discomfort when testing an elbow that forced him to be scratched from Sunday's start in Taiwan.
Wade said he was told by doctors that two recent MRIs confirmed there were no labral or rotator cuff tears. He said his discomfort might be coming from the acromioclavicular joint that links the collarbone with the top of the shoulder. Doctors also will search for any loose bodies in the joint.
Wade has had sporadic "pinching" in his shoulder since his rookie season of 2008, when he made 61 appearances and pitched 87 innings, 71 1/3 of those in the big leagues while compiling a 2.27 ERA. But he also spent three weeks that August on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.
The shoulder sidelined him most of last spring, a precursor to a rough 2009 season in which his Dodgers ERA soared to 5.53 and he spent two stints on the disabled list with more shoulder problems. He was shut down a week ago and underwent two MRIs.
"If they don't find anything major, I'm looking at a three-month time frame," Wade said. "Nobody wants surgery, but it's come to a point where we need to figure something out."
Wade said he will return Thursday to rehab at Camelback Ranch-Glendale. The Dodgers are off Tuesday.
Meanwhile, manager Joe Torre said he's relatively confident that Kuo will be ready for the start of the season, even though last week Kuo developed soreness in a left elbow that has undergone four operations already.
"He made 15 throws Sunday in Taiwan, just testing to see how it felt, and he was OK," said Torre. "I think he'll be ready [for Opening Day]."
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Neither Torre nor general manager Ned Colletti, however, are expecting Ronald Belisario to be ready for Opening Day, considering that he still is stuck in Venezuela with visa problems compounded by a pending charge for driving under the influence last summer.
Colletti said he's assuming he won't have Belisario to start the season, although club officials are cautiously optimistic that the right-hander -- who basically took Wade's role with 70 2/3 innings and a 2.04 ERA in his rookie season -- is close to receiving clearance to report.
Even if it happens, there is less than three weeks left of Spring Training and nobody knows what condition Belisario's arm is in, although he did pitch winter ball. Belisario was two weeks late to Spring Training last year with visa problems and still made the Opening Day roster and played a key role throughout the season. On the other hand, Will Ohman signed the last week of Spring Training, rushed to be on the roster Opening Day and wound up needing shoulder surgery. So truncated Spring Trainings, especially for pitchers, can be risky.
The uncertainty with Belisario and Kuo could create opportunity in the Dodgers' bullpen, where only Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill and Ramon Troncoso seem to have jobs locked up.
Jon Link and Josh Towers have emerged as long-shot candidates for relief spots, while there are several fifth-starter candidates who could wind up in the bullpen.
To Colletti, inventory of arms is crucial, which gives Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger and Carlos Monasterios an edge in making the staff. Stults and Haeger are out of options, while Monasterios is a Rule 5 pick, so each could be lost if he doesn't make the club.
If Stults makes the club, it most likely would be as the fifth starter, although he has tough competition from non-roster veterans Ramon and Russ Ortiz.
Haeger, a knuckleballer who can pitch on consecutive days, might give the Dodgers the flexibility to keep only 11 pitchers, which would allow keeping an extra bench player. That might be the only way for both Doug Mientkiewicz and Garret Anderson to make the club. Whether there would be room for both Haeger and Jeff Weaver on the same staff is another question the front office must ponder.
Coming into camp, it was hoped that youngsters Scott Elbert and James McDonald would force their way onto the staff. But Elbert was optioned Monday after struggling and McDonald -- who failed as the fifth starter last year and settled into a role as an effective reliever (2.72 ERA in relief) -- hasn't been much better than Elbert so far.
Josh Lindblom, 22, is pitching as well as anybody, but he did that late last spring, only to be inconsistent in the Minor Leagues. Management would like to see him dominate in the Minor Leagues for a few months -- as Clayton Kershaw did for half of the 2008 season -- before rushing him to the Major Leagues.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.