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Gagne's Season Could End

Dodger closer has at least a partial tear in his pitching elbow, which might lead to surgery.

June 15, 2005|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eric Gagne has a torn ligament in his pitching elbow, and the Dodgers are bracing themselves for the possibility that their All-Star closer could require surgery that could end his season and jeopardize his chance to return next year.

Gagne complained of a burning sensation in the elbow after pitching on Sunday, and an MRI examination in Kansas City on Monday revealed the tear. Dr. Frank Jobe is scheduled to review the MRI results today in Los Angeles and determine whether to recommend surgery.

"Right now, we're hoping for the best," Gagne said. "That's all we can do."

The Dodgers listed the injury as a second-degree sprain -- by definition, a partial tear -- of the ulnar collateral ligament.

"There's a tear in it," athletic trainer Stan Johnston said. "How big it is has yet to be determined."

A second-degree sprain is more severe than a first-degree sprain. Gagne sat out the first six weeks of the season because of what Johnston said was a first-degree sprain in the elbow.

This time, Gagne said, he felt "not like a pop, but a warm sensation in the arm." He added: "It felt like the exact same thing, but not as good."

Later, he said, "You feel good one day, and the next day you can blow it out. You never know."

In case of surgery, the standard repair is the so-called Tommy John procedure, which generally requires 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation. Gagne had that operation in the minor leagues and sat out the 1997 season.

In January, the Dodgers signed Gagne to a two-year, $19-million contract, including a 2007 option that would cost the team $12 million to exercise or $1 million to buy out. He is eligible for free agency when the contract expires.

Manager Jim Tracy said the team would "in all likelihood" put Gagne on the disabled list today, after Jobe's evaluation. General Manager Paul DePodesta did not return two calls seeking comment, but the injury could widen his focus from trading for a starting pitcher.

The Dodgers are comfortable with Yhency Brazoban, who converted 11 of 12 save opportunities in Gagne's absence, as closer and with Duaner Sanchez, Kelly Wunsch and Giovanni Carrara in front of him.

For now, the rest of the bullpen includes rookies Franquelis Osoria and Derek Thompson and little-used veteran Scott Erickson. Elmer Dessens, who could be activated from the disabled list and into Gagne's roster spot, can start or relieve. Odalis Perez is expected to rejoin the rotation later this month, which could push D.J. Houlton back to the bullpen.

Gagne, who converted a record 84 consecutive save opportunities from 2002-04, had converted all eight save opportunities this season. Although his velocity had fallen from 95-97 mph last year to 91-94 mph this year, and although a damaged ligament can result in diminished velocity, Gagne said he "was 100%" and rejected the notion the lower speed indicated he never had been sound.

"I was coming back from an injury," he said. "That was the problem. I wasn't worried about speed. I knew it was going to come back."

Gagne said he had experienced no discomfort in the elbow since he returned last month -- until Sunday, when he said he felt stiffness while warming up. He pitched a perfect inning -- "his best outing of the year," Tracy said -- that included two strikeouts. After the game, Tracy said, he reported "some burning in the elbow" to the trainers.

"Obviously, it's a big blow," pitcher Jeff Weaver said. "He worked his tail off to get back. We had all hoped it was over and done with. We'll have to have guys step up and do the job."

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