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Signs don't look encouraging for Saito

Signs don't look encouraging for Saito

LOS ANGELES -- A concerned Takashi Saito couldn't brush his teeth Sunday morning without feeling discomfort in his right elbow, more anecdotal evidence for the Dodgers to be prepared for the worst.

The closer undergoes an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of damage to his elbow, which tightened up and forced him from Saturday night's game. But the expectations are not good, other than Saito will probably start the second half on the disabled list. If he's lucky, he won't need surgery.

"It's never good to have your closer come out of a game," said manager Joe Torre. "You've got to assume the worst. With the All-Star break, there's no decision to make immediately. Hopefully he'd need four or five days off. That would be perfect."

So heading into the final game before the All-Star break, Torre said Jonathan Broxton was his closer until further notice. He wasn't sure who would inherit Broxton's setup role, suggesting it would be a matchup decision, although one name he mentioned was Hong-Chih Kuo, even though his history of elbow operations -- four -- has made him ineligible for repeated short use to this point.

Torre said Kuo could pitch the seventh and eighth innings the way Mariano Rivera did for Torre before becoming the Yankees closer. He also said Joe Beimel "has the courage to do it," although Torre this year has used Beimel more as a true situational left-hander than as a multiple-innings reliever as Grady Little did.

The Dodgers are considering returning Chan Ho Park to the bullpen and calling up Clayton Kershaw to replace Park in the starting rotation for the second half. Torre said Kuo and Park are two of the biggest surprises of the first half, along with third baseman Blake DeWitt.

Saito was 3-3 with a 2.18 ERA in 39 appearances, and had 53 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings with 17 saves in 20 opportunities. He was injured after striking out the first two batters he faced on Saturday night, feeling increasing tightness with each of four pitches he threw to Wes Helms. He shook his arm and looked into the Dodgers dugout after the second and fourth pitch, his last.

Broxton, with a fastball approaching 100 mph, has been the closer-in-training going on three seasons. He is 2-2 with a 3.40 ERA, with 46 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings. He has officially let five leads get away, although he hasn't actually been in a ninth-inning save situation this year.

But he was last year, when Saito was shelved for a week with a strained hamstring. Broxton converted his first save opportunity, then let a four-run lead get away in a crushing loss in San Diego before Saito returned. Broxton has five career saves and 15 blown saves.

"He'll be back shortly, I hope," Broxton said of Saito. "He's a big part of our bullpen. When I'm in that [closer] situation, I'll approach it the same as last year. I just look at it like it's the eighth inning, I come out and get outs. It's no different for me."

Broxton said he feels he's ready for the role.

"Hopefully, one day, I will be," he said. "That's been my goal when I started in the bullpen. One day I can do that. Right now, as long as I'm pitching and we're winning, I'll do anything."

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

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