SAN DIEGO -- In a development that figures to have major implications for the Los Angeles Dodgers beyond this year, rookie right-hander Rubby De La Rosa has learned he will need Tommy John reconstructive surgery to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Such procedures typically carry a recovery period of a year or more before a pitcher is ready to perform again at the major league level.
"With everything we have been through this year, this is probably as tough as any of that," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "It directly affects us for the offseason and for next year."
De La Rosa reported tightness in the elbow to the team's medical staff following his start on Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a game in which he lasted just four innings, threw 100 pitches and never appeared comfortable on the mound. He underwent an MRI exam on Monday in Los Angeles that revealed the tear.
Dodgers medical-services director Stan Conte said De La Rosa could be throwing again in about 4½ months. Conte said De La Rosa could have chosen a non-surgical approach, but that such approaches rarely work.
"Our other option was to rest him for six weeks and then slowly try to get him back into throwing over the next six weeks," Conte said. "But there is about a 60- to 70-percent failure rate to doing that with that type of approach, and if he got to spring training and then went down, that would have been jeopardizing 2013. The fact is that Tommy John surgeries have shown to be fairly reliable with getting pitchers back to their previous levels."
De La Rosa, 22, was the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season and had gone 4-5 with a 3.71 ERA in 10 starts and three relief appearances since his first big league callup from Double-A Chattanooga on May 24. He figured to be a lock for the team's starting rotation next year, a rotation that potentially could lose veteran Hiroki Kuroda to free agency.
Although right-hander John Ely was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque to take De La Rosa's roster spot, it doesn't appear that Ely will move into the rotation. Manager Don Mattingly said Ely will be in the bullpen for now and could serve as a long reliever, something the Dodgers don't really have.
The Dodgers don't need a fifth starter until next Tuesday night against Philadelphia. When they do, there is some chance they will promote promising right-hander Nate Eovaldi, the club's 11th-round pick in the 2008 amateur draft. He is 6-5 with a 2.62 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga this season and has allowed just 76 hits in 103 innings.
"That is one of the names I have heard, that's for sure, through the course of the season," Mattingly said.
De La Rosa opted for the surgery after getting opinions from both Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache and noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. The date and location of the surgery haven't been determined yet.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.