The revelation, coming after Gagne and the club gave several curious explanations for why he had not pitched for a full week, continues the disturbing trend of injuries that started last year and, despite a new management team, haven't stopped.
Gagne, 30, will be the fifth Dodger disabled this three-game-old season and third in a week. Jayson Werth and Cesar Izturis were expected to open the season on the disabled list with wrist and elbow injuries. Kenny Lofton joined them with a calf muscle injury suffered last week in Las Vegas, and Nomar Garciaparra was added Tuesday with a ribcage muscle strain.
But in recent years, as Gagne goes, so goes the franchise. He made only 14 appearances last season, and the Dodgers went on to their second-worst record in their Los Angeles history.
Gagne's continued frailty underscores the tenuous condition of the Dodgers' health in general. General manager Ned Colletti acquired Danys Baez and his $4 million salary from Tampa Bay for exactly this reason, sending young pitchers Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to get Baez and Lance Carter.
"We had no idea this was going to occur," said Colletti. "But Eric pitched 14 games last year and hadn't pitched in the second half, so we're all smart enough to know you don't know what he's got. He gave me no indication anything was wrong. We made the trade to shore up the bullpen and provide a little bit of security in case something like this happened."
The injury is a huge blow to the franchise on the field, in the clubhouse and at the gate. And it was hardly a surprise, considering developments over the past two months.
Gagne admitted during Spring Training he was not able to rebound as quickly as he liked after pitching, his fastball slowed down as the spring progressed and he allowed three home runs in 10 innings, compared to allowing two home runs during his entire 2003 Cy Young season. But trainer Stan Johnston said Gagne never told the club he was in pain until Wednesday, and Gagne frequently told reporters his primary concern was scar tissue he had to pitch through.
"We know he wasn't close to what we saw in 2003 and 2004 and, until he gets back to that point, we don't know what to expect," said new manager Grady Little.
Gagne last pitched Friday night against the Angels and allowed a home run to Garret Anderson. He did not pitch the rest of the Freeway Series and did not pitch Monday's opener. On Tuesday, Gagne underwent what was described as a prearranged MRI on his elbow and officials said the results were "clean."
Yet only hours after that MRI, Gagne suddenly dropped the appeal of a two-game suspension held over from last year, explaining that it was unlikely to be reduced, and that his elbow felt "fine."
Gagne was not part of a club conference call Thursday, but here is what he said in a statement released by the club:
"I'm very disappointed. I thought this would be behind us. It was a decision that I want to be 100 percent, to be myself and enjoy it, because I can't pitch with that kind of pain."
Johnston explained that doctors will remove the nerve that runs just under the skin along the forearm and crosses the elbow. Doctors isolated the nerve as the problem by numbing it Wednesday night and having Gagne throw a ball. The fact that the pain disappeared indicated that the nerve, and not scar tissue, was the cause of the pain.
Doctors released that nerve and relocated it in a 90-minute procedure last year, but according to Johnston, "That didn't calm it down well enough to pitch." Gagne underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 1997.
He sprained his knee during the first week of spring workouts last year and rushed back to the mound four weeks later, pitching with an awkward hop to protect his leg. At the end of Spring Training, he suffered a sprained elbow ligament, although he insisted it had nothing to do with his knee injury. It is believed, however, that scar tissue formed from the elbow sprain and entrapped the nerve.
Gagne can become a free agent after this season. He is in the second year of a two-year contract with salaries of $9 million last year and $10 million this year, with an option for 2007 at $12 million or a $1 million buyout. If the club were to pick up the option, Gagne has the right to void it.