SAN DIEGO -- Hong-Chih Kuo said the thoughts he had of retiring in the spring are almost completely gone from his mind.
Eighteen games are what separate the 27-year-old left-hander from the end of the regular season, the point he hoped to reach with his surgically repaired elbow intact.
That he isn't starting is no longer an issue to him. And he isn't pointing to his numbers to campaign for a spot in the rotation next year.
"I'm just trying to stay healthy," Kuo said. "It doesn't matter what kind of job I do."
Staying healthy with an elbow that has survived three surgeries, including one 13 months ago, has forced Kuo to be among the first players to show up to work every day. He has received various forms of therapy in the trainer's room, ranging from ultrasound and electrical stimulation treatment to extra stretching.
On days when he might be called upon to pitch, Kuo rubs a hot balm on his elbow to keep it loose. After every outing, he straps packs of ice on his shoulder and elbow.
"He's shown more heart than I've ever seen in a player trying to get through a season," trainer Stan Conte said.
Kuo said he worried about whether his elbow would be able to handle the setup role that he was forced into when Takashi Saito went down because of an elbow injury in July. Kuo started the season as a long reliever who pitched every few days.
Kuo has pitched 79 2/3 innings over 41 games, 38 of them in relief. He's 5-2 with a 2.03 earned-run average and hasn't worn down, as he hasn't given up a run in the eight innings he has pitched in his last five appearances.
More surgery for Schmidt
Jason Schmidt's second season with the Dodgers will end at the same place that the first did -- the operating table.
The surgery that Schmidt will undergo Wednesday will be minor compared with the one he had last season, which was to repair a torn labrum, frayed biceps tendon and scarring in the bursa. Schmidt, who didn't pitch in the majors this season, will have scar tissue removed from his shoulder and have the end of his collarbone shaved. He is expected to start throwing in six weeks.
Conte said that Schmidt was "90% back" a couple of times this season but could never get past that point.
Because an MRI exam that Schmidt underwent last week showed that his labrum had healed, Conte said that he expected Schmidt to be ready for the start of spring training next year, which will be the last season of his three-year, $47-million deal.
Schmidt was 1-4 with a 6.31 ERA in six starts last season.
Penny close to coming back
The way Brad Penny looked throwing 30 pitches over two innings of a simulated game convinced Manager Joe Torre that the opening-day starter could be available in relief Friday.
"I talked to him about coming out of the bullpen," Torre said. "The way we've used the bullpen, the more the merrier."
Torre said Penny would have a "touch and feel" session Wednesday, putting him in line for a return two days later. Torre said Penny would enter games at the start of innings, easing fears that he had of having to warm up multiple times and risking injury.
Penny, who is 6-9 with a 6.05 ERA in 17 starts, last pitched Aug. 13.
Second baseman Jeff Kent didn't travel with the team to San Diego, as he experienced soreness in his left calf and was advised by team physician Neal ElAttrache to remain in Los Angeles. . . . Saito, who threw in a simulated game Sunday, said that his elbow felt fine and that he remained on track to pitch in another simulated game Wednesday.