Notes: Gagne focused on here and now

Dodgers notes: Gagne focused on now

SAN DIEGO -- Eric Gagne knows there's a possibility he's thrown his last pitch as a Dodger, but for now, he can't worry about free agency or contracts or next year.

"Right now," Gagne said, "all I can think about is getting healthy. I just worry about each day, and there's nothing more I can do about it. If I can get back to pitching, everything else will take care of itself."

Healing has become a full-time job over the past two seasons for the former Cy Young closer. Since last June, he has had more surgical procedures (three) than innings pitched (two).

He's likely headed to free agency, because his current contract will allow the Dodgers to pay a $1 million buyout and avoid a $12 million salary for 2007, although that does not preclude him from re-signing with the Dodgers. The buyout decision will be made before Gagne can conclusively prove to anybody that he's healed from April 6 surgery to relocate a nerve in his elbow and a July 8 operation to repair a herniated disk.

Gagne also has a 2005 elbow nerve operation and a 1997 Tommy John elbow reconstruction on his medical record, but he said the disk injury was the most painful thing he's ever experienced.

"I don't know what I did, no idea, but one day I'm on the floor, throwing up and crying like a baby," he said. "The worst night I've ever had, by far. Dr. [Robert] Watkins said it was really bad, but he said he got it all and he's confident I'll come back.

"I've already seen a lot of progress. I've gone from throwing up on the floor to walking, and now to almost running on a treadmill. Once in a while, I get a little pain down to the butt, but it doesn't go down my leg to my foot like it did when it happened. It's just a matter of time. There's no quick fix."

That Gagne is beginning to appear in the Dodgers' clubhouse for treatment is a sign of his progress. He's with the club in San Diego and will make the weekend trip to Arizona, where he keeps a winter home.

"I can't throw because of my back, but my arm feels like I could, like it's better than it's been in a while," he said. "It's been really frustrating. I keep trying to come back, and things still keep happening. So, it's just a situation where I have to get healthy and back to baseball."

Gagne is six weeks into a back rehab he was told would take from three to five months. He said he will be working in the offseason with Phoenix-based physical therapist Brett Fischer, who helped Randy Johnson rebound from back surgery and stresses core exercises.

"Boring stuff," said Gagne.

Lugo's finger: It won't stop infielder Julio Lugo from playing, but when he was acquired from Tampa Bay in last month's deadline deal, he reported with an injured middle finger on his right hand.

Trainer Stan Johnston said the injury is to a ligament around the knuckle nearest the fingertip, making it difficult for Lugo to fully straighten the finger. He said the discomfort is felt both while throwing and batting.

Johnston fitted Lugo with a metal splint to wear when he's not playing in hopes the injury will heal without requiring surgery.

Perez trade update: Blake Johnson, the right-handed pitching prospect dealt to Kansas City with Odalis Perez for Elmer Dessens, has been shut down for the rest of the season with a sore elbow.

Lofton's lofty status: Center fielder Kenny Lofton has sufficient plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders, and came into Monday night's game tied for seventh in the league with a .319 batting average. His .450 August average is 10 points behind the club record and third-highest in Los Angeles history behind Pedro Guerrero's .460 in July 1985 and Willie Davis' .459 in August of 1969.

"There's still a lot of energy and life in his legs," manager Grady Little said of Lofton. "A couple of times this year, he played to the point of overplaying. He could tell and we could tell. Since then, we've prevented that from happening. You can watch Kenny play and tell."

Little said he wasn't so sure the Padres' late scratch of former Dodger Chan Ho Park as Monday night's starting pitcher was a guaranteed advantage for the streaking Dodgers. Tim Stauffer was called up from Triple-A to start in place of Park.

"Not a lot of [Dodgers] hitters know [Stauffer]," said Little. "It may have the reverse effect. There's a lot to be said for hitters knowing a pitcher."

Coming up: Mark Hendrickson (1-5, 5.19) opposes Jake Peavy (6-12, 4.55) Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. PT.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.