Reporting from Phoenix — The strength of the Dodgers' middle relief grew more questionable Tuesday when the team announced that right-hander Cory Wade would undergo exploratory surgery on his throwing shoulder Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Dogged with shoulder problems since his strong rookie year in 2008, Wade will have an arthroscopic procedure performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache aimed at finding the source of his discomfort.
The surgery probably will sideline Wade, 26, for at least two months. The Dodgers, who had a day off Tuesday, said more information about Wade's prospects would be disclosed after the surgery.
Wade was a workhorse for the Dodgers in his rookie year when pitched a team-high 71 1/3 innings in 55 games. But his shoulder problems limited him to 27 appearances with the Dodgers last year — when he had a 5.53 earned-run average — and 18 appearances with the club's triple-A team in Albuquerque.
Recent MRI tests on Wade showed there was no tear of the rotator cuff in the shoulder, according to a report on MLB.com, but Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti declined to comment on the specifics of Wade's injury until after the surgery.
Wade's setback comes as one of the Dodgers' busiest middle relievers last year, Venezuelan Ronald Belisario, still has not reported to camp because of visa problems. Belisario, 27, made 69 appearances last season.
Although he has spent most of his professional career in the minors, catcher A.J. Ellis said he always treats spring training as time to prepare for the big leagues and this year "is really no different."
Then he paused and added, "Well, it is a little different."
That's an understatement because Ellis appears all but certain to be the Dodgers' starting catcher April 5 when the team opens the season in Pittsburgh. The Dodgers' regular catcher, Russell Martin, suffered a strained groin early this month that's expected to sideline him four to six weeks.
So Ellis, 28, is preparing himself mentally, as well as physically, to be center stage when the season starts.
"The biggest thing is staying in my same routine, getting in my offensive and defensive work and getting to know this pitching staff," said Ellis, who spent most of last year in Albuquerque but appeared in eight big league games in three stints.
The staff, in turn, is confident in Ellis' ability, Colletti said, adding that Ellis "can catch, call a game and throw. We lose nothing in that area" during Martin's absence.
Ellis said his main task is "a smooth transition" until Martin's return. "I know Russ is working hard to get back and this is his team."
In the meantime, Ellis said he handles the pressure by not taking the game "too seriously."
"There's just more important things in life than playing baseball," he said. "I'm blessed to have a beautiful family at home that helps me keep grounded. I have a 22-month-old little girl who doesn't know if I go 0 for 4 or four for four."