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10/06/08 10:05 PM EST

LA hopeful Kuo will be healthy for NLCS

Key left-handed reliever has no pain after bullpen session

LOS ANGELES -- Joe Torre put his Dodgers through a Monday workout and among the observers was Hall of Fame horse trainer Bobby Frankel, who conditions and co-owns with Torre the 2-year-old Vineyard Haven, winner of Saturday's $400,000 Champagne Stakes.

While the trainer talked about the Kentucky Derby campaign he's mapped out for their horse, the manager was focused on the next challenge for his baseball club, the National League Championship Series that starts Thursday in Philadelphia and whether he'll have reliever Hong-Chih Kuo for it.

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With Kuo and that left elbow of his, the Dodgers never know for sure. In fact, the departure time for Tuesday's team flight was pushed back an hour so the club can first put Kuo through a morning simulated game as a final test before a roster is submitted Thursday.

Kuo, who has had four operations on his elbow, has pitched once in the past four weeks because of discomfort in his triceps area just above the elbow. He has said the area doesn't bother him throwing but tightens the following day. So even with the simulated game, club officials really won't know about Kuo until Wednesday's workout at Citizens Bank Park.

Nonetheless, Kuo and the club were relieved on Monday that the elbow felt fine after being put through his first bullpen session in three weeks on Sunday. Kuo said he threw hard off the mound and felt fine Monday.

"I'm ready," said Kuo, who emerged this season as an overpowering setup man when Takashi Saito was injured, pitching 80 innings with a 2.14 ERA.

Kuo, who missed the NL Division Series with the Cubs, could be critical to the Dodgers' chances in this series. He was lights-out in three appearances against the Phillies this year, allowing one hit over five scoreless innings and notching his lone save of the season.

The Dodgers never used or needed a left-hander against the Cubs, but Kuo would be a key element in club tactics for this series because the Phillies have dangerous left-handed hitters in their lineup such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and the Dodgers are likely to use the same three-man right-handed rotation of Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda they used against the Cubs in the Division Series sweep.

"[The Phillies] certainly are different than Chicago as far as damage guys," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Utley and Howard are pretty imposing."

Without Kuo, the only left-handers on the staff are situational lefty Joe Beimel and rookie starter Clayton Kershaw, whom Torre said was a candidate to start Game 4, if it isn't Lowe on three days' rest. Greg Maddux presumably also is a candidate, although Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt were excited about the versatility after watching Maddux pitch effectively out of the bullpen in Game 1 and volunteer to do it again in Game 2.

Despite Kuo's uncertain status, Torre said he's likely to stick with an 11-pitcher staff because he wants an extra infielder (Pablo Ozuna) for defensive purposes. He said he's unlikely to make any other changes in the roster besides Kuo's possible addition. The likely pitcher to get bumped would be rookie James McDonald.

Torre also said he would consider a lineup change because the Phillies could start two left-handers, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer.

"There's a chance, even though we won three games with the same lineup, of rearranging it," he said.

Among the left-handed hitters in the lineup, James Loney had six RBIs in the NLDS but hit .214; Andre Ethier hit .100.

The Dodgers will work out Wednesday in Philadelphia and receive the advance reports from Mitch Webster and Ron Rizzi, the scouts who have been following the Phillies the past two weeks.

After Monday's full-squad practice, the Dodgers had a simulated game for pitchers Beimel, Kershaw, Saito, Chan Ho Park, Ramon Troncoso and McDonald.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.