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10/02/09 9:26 PM EST

Neck injury sidelines Kuroda for NLDS

Without right-hander, Dodgers could turn to Padilla

LOS ANGELES -- Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers' best starter in last year's postseason, won't pitch in the National League Division Series next week because of a small disk herniation in his cervical spine, manager Joe Torre announced Friday.

Kuroda, who missed two months this season because of an oblique strain and three weeks after getting drilled on the head by a line drive, had an MRI on Thursday and the diagnosis was made by Dr. Robert Watkins Jr. Torre said surgery is not necessary, and he left open the possibility that Kuroda could pitch in a later series if the Dodgers advance.

"It's a matter of having the pain relieved," Torre said. "If he's able to throw, if we get to go on in the postseason, it's still a possibility of having him."

Kuroda said he's felt "tightness and discomfort" in the left side of his neck and upper back since taking the line drive off the right side of his head Aug. 15, but it wasn't until Tuesday while running in the outfield at PETCO Park in San Diego that he noticed pain. He said he tried to play catch and "felt pain I've never felt before and I stopped right away."

Now, instead of a cutting down a six-man rotation, Torre needs to cut down a five-man rotation into four for the playoffs. He said Vicente Padilla will start Sunday's regular-season finale, but he won't announce the rotation members until an opponent is determined.

Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw are lined up to pitch Games 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Thursday. With Kuroda out, Padilla now appears to be in.

"I like the way he competes and his stuff," Torre said. "He has a lot of life to his arm and he's got experience."

Torre said a simulated game would be arranged for Chad Billingsley and that Jon Garland remains in the mix to start, but will pitch out of the bullpen Sunday. Padilla pitched out of the bullpen Wednesday night for the first time since 2001 with two scoreless innings.

Kuroda last pitched Monday in Pittsburgh, allowing seven runs, but didn't complain about neck pain until running in the outfield Tuesday in San Diego. Kuroda told Torre the neck was not an issue in how he pitched against the Pirates.

"He has like everybody -- especially people who have pitched -- he has some wear and tear on his neck, just like most of these guys do," trainer Stan Conte said. "He must have made a movement that irritated this. And created this small little tear in the disk and that's probably what happened. It's just serendipity.

"If he tried to pitch through this -- and Kuroda asked the doctor and asked us if we can do something so that he could pitch in spite of this -- he would have a chance of making this from a small herniation into a large herniation which in fact could require surgery. So that's the reason we are pretty much adamant that he will not be able to pitch until he has full pain free range of motion. Even though this is the playoffs, this is not something that you would inject and numb so he could pitch. You would not ever do that. That puts him at real significant risk."

The 34-year-old Kuroda had made five starts since that frightening injury in Arizona and didn't show any aftereffects, going 3-2 with a 2.79 ERA. He finished the regular season 8-7 with a 3.76 ERA in 21 starts, missing roughly one-third of the season.

"It's tough. I know he's sad about it," said Torre.

And the Dodgers lose a starter who stepped up under big-time pressure last year. After never reaching the postseason in an 11-season career in Japan, Kuroda made it as a "rookie" with the Dodgers and was their best pitcher in the October spotlight. He threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the Division Series Game 3 clincher against the Cubs and allowed two runs in six innings beating the Phillies in Game 3, the Dodgers' only win in the NL Championship Series.

"I'm definitely disappointed," said Kuroda. "They said recovery time varies depending on the person. I'm hopeful to come back and play in the playoffs."

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