CHICAGO -- Takashi Saito is the Dodgers’ closer again -- at least that’s what Saito said he was told by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt at the start of the National League division series.
Saito didn’t fool the Cubs in the ninth inning of Game 2, giving up two runs on two doubles and a single, but for him to pitch at all is almost a medical miracle.
“For me to be here with my teammates at this time of the year,” Saito said, “I really can only think that I had luck on my side.”
Saito credited his unlikely recovery from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow that he suffered in July to a cutting-edge medical procedure, which, to his knowledge, had never been tried on a major league pitcher.
To this day, team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache can’t definitively say that injecting platelet-rich plasma into Saito’s elbow is what allowed him to avoid Tommy John surgery. ElAttrache also won’t guarantee how long the elbow will hold up or that Saito won’t have to have surgery in the future.
What matters to Saito is that he’s back.
Trainer Stan Conte said he estimated that Saito had a 20% chance of pitching again this season and told management not to count on him being back. So when ElAttrache offered using PRP as an option, Conte was open to the idea.
So was Saito, who, at 38, didn’t want to spend nine months to a year recovering from surgery.
“I was willing to do anything,” Saito said. “The only promise they made me is that it wouldn’t make it worse. That was enough for me.”
Within a week of hurting his elbow, Saito had blood drawn and spun to isolate the platelets, which clot and promote healing. The platelets, 10 times more concentrated than in normal blood, were injected into the site of the tear in the elbow. ElAttrache said he used PRP in the past to repair tendons, but never ligaments.
ElAttrache admitted if that Saito were 25 or 26, he would have recommend surgery.
“It was the perfect scenario with the perfect guy,” ElAttrache said. “We don’t have enough experience with this to say that we can prevent an x number of surgeries. But this is the cutting edge.”
Lowe to start Game 4?
Manager Joe Torre used superstition as an excuse to not say whether Game 1 starter Derek Lowe would pitch a potential Game 4 on short rest, but hinted strongly that would be the case.
“I think it’s the same thing as not saying until making the playoffs,” Torre said. “Derek felt fine today. We certainly know he’s aware and on board.”
If Lowe doesn’t pitch, Torre said, the most likely candidate to pitch on Sunday would be Greg Maddux. Because Hong-Chih Kuo isn’t available this round, Torre said he wanted to keep left-hander Clayton Kershaw in the bullpen.
Kent’s role limited
Blake DeWitt will continue to be the Dodgers’ starting second baseman, limiting Jeff Kent to pinch-hitting duties. “Jeff feels he can start right now,” Torre said. “But right now, Blake is doing fine.”
DeWitt said Kent has helped him make the transition from third base to second. DeWitt said Kent offered some advice to him in the regular season, when he saw him backhand a ball that was hit up the middle and try to throw the ball to first over the top.
“He told me, ‘You have to sidearm the ball to get it over,’ ” DeWitt said. “Two days later, the same play came up.”
Hiroki Kuroda, who will start Game 3 at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, returned to Los Angeles a day earlier than his teammates.