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Dreifort May Need Surgery : Dodgers: Reliever would be sidelined for entire season if procedure on elbow is required.

November 04, 1994|MARYANN HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Relief pitcher Darren Dreifort, who the Dodgers are hoping will fill a key role next year, may need elbow surgery that would sideline him for the entire season.

Dreifort, 22, has a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, said Fred Claire, executive vice president. The condition could require a ligament transplant, a surgery that team orthopedist Frank Jobe first used on Tommy John in 1974. The operation has an 85% success rate, but there is a 12-month rehabilitation period.

"(Darren) developed the soreness while he was pitching in L.A. and it kept getting worse," said Dreifort's mother, Carol. "He has had three MRIs and things don't look good. Jobe does not think it will get better, but they will get a second opinion."

Dreifort is in physical therapy and his condition will be evaluated in a month.

"It's not certain that Darren will have to have surgery," Claire said. "In the spring, (minor league pitcher) Todd Williams had an MRI and (his similar elbow injury) looked to be very serious, but he responded without surgery and pitched the whole season."

Dreifort, the Dodgers' first draft pick in 1993, made the team in spring training and quickly won the confidence of Manager Tom Lasorda, who used him in 16 of the team's first 31 games, including nine of 12 games during one stretch.

Dreifort pitched well, compiling an 0-2 record and 3.43 earned-run average and earning four saves in 21 innings. But in his next 11 games, he faltered, going 0-3 with two saves and a 13.50 ERA in eight innings. On June 23, he was sent to the Dodgers' double-A club in San Antonio.

It was after pitching in nine of 12 games that Dreifort's elbow began to trouble him, said his agent, Scott Boras.

"Right after that, Darren told me his arm was tender and he was getting treatment," Boras said.

Claire, when asked if there were any misgivings about the way Dreifort was used, answered after a long pause: "Any time a pitcher has any type of injury, you look back to an extent, but I don't think that was a factor in Darren's condition. The system we have in place enables our medical people to keep the manager informed and everyone as good as they can be. I'm not going to second-guess that at all."

Dreifort continued to pitch despite the elbow tenderness in San Antonio but was shut down in August after making one start for triple-A Albuquerque. Until then, Claire said, Dreifort continued to say his elbow was fine. Claire has said repeatedly since that Dreifort's elbow soreness was merely the result of a young pitching arm.

But an MRI taken last month at Centinela Hospital Medical Center showed otherwise. Jobe sent Dreifort home to Wichita, Kan., with a rehabilitation program to follow, but Monday's examination indicated minimal improvement.

Although there are some in the organization pushing for Dreifort to be a starter, he has been projected as the team's future closer. The club was hoping he would be ready next season to replace Jim Gott in the setup role or provide insurance if closer Todd Worrell falters. It may be some time, though, before Dreifort fills any role.

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