PITTSBURGH -- The circumstances are almost eerie, Hong-Chih Kuo being placed on the disabled list by the Dodgers on Wednesday for anxiety disorder and being replaced in the bullpen by Scott Elbert, who left Triple-A Albuquerque for the last half of the 2010 season for personal issues he later said were related to pressure.
Elbert said this spring it was all about dealing with the pressure, on and off the field. He sees his return to the Major Leagues as a "huge step," conceding that last summer he wasn't sure he would even return to the game.
"It was one of those things, really you don't know," he said when asked if he thought his career was over. "It didn't happen that way. Thank God I had the opportunity again."
A former No. 1 Draft pick, Elbert had 13 appearances for Albuquerque with a 2-0 mark and 5.02 ERA, apparently still plagued by occasional wildness. In 14 1/3 innings, Elbert has issued nine walks with 16 strikeouts. Seven of his eight earned runs allowed have come in two appearances.
He said his problems generally occurred when he was asked to pitch a second inning of relief.
"Mentally, I was prepared for one inning, which was my fault," he said. "I should be prepared for anything."
Elbert has had six previous Major League callups, but he said this one is different.
"I feel more relaxed," he said. "It's something that comes with maturity and nature, if that's what it means to be special," he said. "I'm not a new face to them. I'm not working to try to do too much. Let them hit it and put it in play. I've grown up a little bit. A lot of it is seeing my two kids and having patience with them.
"I just have to be myself and not worry what anybody else things about me. It's part of growing up."
Elbert tried to return to the Isotopes in August, but developed shoulder tendinitis and was shut down. He worked his way back into shape in time to pitch for manager Don Mattingly in the Arizona Fall League.
The club decided Elbert should pitch exclusively out of the bullpen, instead of the yo-yo handling of past years when he would start in the Minor Leagues but be used in relief during his six Major League callups over the last three seasons.