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Cloud of Uncertainty Over Karros

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the eve of the regular season, Dodger first baseman Eric Karros could be sidelined indefinitely after an examination Monday revealed that he must undergo arthroscopic surgery on his injured left knee.

Team physician Ralph Gambardella will perform the surgery today at 1 p.m. at Centinela Medical Center in an attempt to determine the cause of pain and swelling Karros has experienced throughout spring training here.

One source indicated that Karros might not have any cartilage remaining in the knee. Depending on the damage, Karros could return to the lineup in a month--or possibly sit out the entire season.

“The pain Eric has experienced was a concern, so we wanted to have it looked at to find the best course possible,” said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president. “The doctors have told us that this can possibly be something short term. Hopefully, the shortest scenario will play out.”

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Regardless, Karros, who has played in 267 consecutive games, will miss the beginning of the season.

The Dodgers open on the road March 31 against the St. Louis Cardinals, and the six-year veteran will not be in the opening-day lineup for the first time since his rookie season in 1992. Karros, 30, has hit at least 30 home runs with 100 runs batted in the past three seasons.

“Eric Karros is a big part of our team and we’re obviously going to miss him,” Manager Bill Russell said. “You never want a player like him to be out of your lineup, but we just don’t know enough right now.

“We need to find out what the problem is and get it fixed. That’s the important thing.”

Players were surprised to learn that Karros, a team leader and fixture at first base, could be severely injured.

“Karros is one of the leaders in the middle of our lineup,” second baseman Eric Young said. “He keeps the infield together and he’s definitely an asset. Everybody is going to have to do more now.”

The Dodgers said they don’t know how or when the injury occurred. Karros, who was unavailable for comment Monday, is typically guarded with such information.

He returned to Los Angeles on Friday to be examined by Gambardella after his knee failed to respond to therapy. He had played infrequently in recent weeks as the swelling and discomfort lingered, but maintained he was fine. Two MRI tests suggested that something was wrong, but they were inconclusive, team officials said.

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Gambardella, who examined Karros for the first time Monday, said he believes the problem is related to cartilage and not ligament damage, but he won’t be certain until he probes Karros’ knee.

“With the persistent swelling, for someone who has not had knee problems, we thought it was best to take a look inside,” Gambardella said. “But we are not inclined to say we know enough yet.”

The length of the procedure will be determined by what is found. The fear is that significant damage might require reconstructive surgery, jeopardizing Karros’ chances of playing this season.

“But we’re not thinking in those terms, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable speculating on anything like that,” Gambardella said. “We’re just basically going to take a look inside Eric’s knee to try to define the issue.”

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Karros played in 14 of 24 games in spring training. He was productive despite the injury, hitting .389 with three homers and eight RBIs.

“A lot of things are not normal about this,” Gambardella said. “The fact that he has been able to play with it is not normal. That’s why we need to find out.”

Karros is calmly awaiting the procedure, his attorney said.

“It’s a tough time for him, as it would be for any player who is about to start the season and then experiences an injury issue like this,” said Jeff Moorad, who spoke with Karros late Monday night. “But Eric is extremely mature in his view of issues such as these. He’s approaching this with his typical professionalism.”

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The Dodgers have already decided they will replace Karros from within, naming rookie Paul Konerko as the opening-day first baseman. The 1997 minor league player of the year at triple-A Albuquerque, Konerko has been working in the outfield in spring training. But first base is his best position.

“We’re comfortable with Konerko there until Eric gets back,” Russell said. “If it were up to Eric, we know he would be back tomorrow. But it’s not up to him.”


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