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Brown Status Up in the Air After Surgery

The doctor who performed surgery on a herniated disk in Kevin Brown’s lower back said Tuesday he was “guarded” about the chances of the Dodger ace pitching again this season.

During a two-hour procedure at USC Medical Center, Robert Watkins removed a large herniation--they are classified as small, medium or large--and “a large number of fragments [that were] compressing the nerve.”

Brown, who was already on the disabled list because of inflammation in his surgically repaired right elbow, will begin a five-step rehabilitation program to stabilize the trunk area in about two weeks. He will not be allowed to pick up a baseball until his rehab is complete.

“There is no reason to think he won’t return at 100%,” Watkins said. "[But] I would be guarded in any recommendation that he can return this year. I’m going to take it one week at a time.... His response to the program will determine how rapidly he comes back.”

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Recovery time varies from patient to patient, but Brown, in the fourth year of a seven-year, $105-million contract, will be sidelined for at least another month and probably more. Though it might not have any bearing on his recovery, Tuesday’s procedure was not considered routine.

“It was a little out of the ordinary because it was a foramenal herniation, meaning [it was located] in the window, the tunnel, that the nerve goes out of,” Watkins said. “That’s not as common as a typical herniation into the spinal cord. To take it out, we came through the window of the spine, which isn’t normal.”

Brown, who said he suffered the injury while playfully wrestling with his son May 29, will remain hospitalized until tonight or Thursday.

There could be one benefit to Brown’s back surgery--the down time could allow his elbow to further heal. Some speculated that Brown rushed his return from Sept. 27 surgery to repair a torn tendon, possibly leading to his two elbow setbacks this season. If that’s the case, the Dodgers seem determined not to let that happen again.

“When the time is right [for Brown to return] it will be right; we’ll be very patient, very conservative,” General Manager Dan Evans said. “Independent of any needs we have as a club, we need to have him back at 100%.”

The words “patient” and “conservative” do not jibe with Brown’s aggressive approach, but Evans said he has had numerous conversations with Brown, stressing the importance of letting the rehabilitation run its course.

Evans said the Dodgers had no plans to pursue starting pitching any more vigorously before the July 31 trading deadline, but that was before Omar Daal, Brown’s replacement, gave up nine runs in 4 1/3 innings Tuesday night.

“We don’t need to make decisions like that today,” Evans said. “We know we’re not going to have [Brown] for a while, but the depth of our pitching staff gives us a chance to win every day. We’ll get him back when he’s ready. We’re not gonna worry about time frame.”

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The Dodgers are close to an agreement with James Loney on a signing bonus that is expected to pay the Texas high school first baseman $1.4-$1.5 million.

The Dodgers are also close to signing Anaheim Esperanza High pitcher Greg Miller, a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Miller, the 31st overall pick, is expected to sign for about $1.2 million.

Third-round pick Michael Nixon, a high school catcher from Phoenix who was recruited to play defensive back at UCLA, signed for $950,000, to be paid out over five years. The deal prohibits Nixon from playing football.

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Fourth-round pick Delwyn Young, a second baseman from Santa Barbara City College, is close to signing for $250,000. Fifth-round pick Michael Megrew, a high school pitcher from Rhode Island, has signed for $190,000, and sixth-round pick Marshall Looney, a high school pitcher from Oregon, has signed for $150,000.

TODAY

DODGERS’

ANDY ASHBY

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(5-5, 3.03 ERA)

vs.

DEVIL RAYS’

RYAN RUPE

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(5-7, 5.18 ERA)

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla., 4:15 p.m.

Radio--KXTA (1150), KWKW (1330).

Update--Ashby was roughed up in his last start, giving up four runs and eight hits, three of them home runs, in a 4-2 loss to Baltimore. After sitting out the last two games, in which the Dodgers faced left-handers, center fielder Dave Roberts will return to the leadoff spot.

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