Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo will undergo surgery on his left elbow for the fifth time in his professional career on Friday, this time an arthroscopic procedure to remove a loose body. The procedure normally is considered a minor one, and Kuo is expected to be at full strength by the start of spring training.
"(But) it's never a minor procedure if it is attached to the elbow of Kuo,'' Dodgers medical-services director Stan Conte said. "We don't expect it to be a big deal, but you kind of hold your breath when it's a surgery involving Kuo.''
Kuo's history of elbow issues is well-documented and includes two Tommy John reconstructive surgeries while he still was in the minor leagues. An All-Star as recently as 2010, when he led all major league relievers with a 1.20 ERA, Kuo suffered a relapse of his longtime battle with the yips in 2011, missed six weeks because of it and wound up with a career-worst (for a full season) average of 7.7 walks per nine innings and also posted a 9.00 ERA in 40 appearances.
Conte said the loose body in Kuo's elbow, which was found through an X-ray after Kuo experienced intermittent locking of the elbow while throwing in preparation for an upcoming, five-game exhibition series in his native Taiwan, didn't contribute to Kuo's problems on the mound for the Dodgers this season.
"This particular issue was not the issue,'' Conte said. "He was doing pretty well getting ready for Taiwan, and the day (Monday) before he was supposed to leave, this locking occurred. It happened twice (that day).''
The decision immediately was made to hold Kuo out of the exhibition series, in which he was supposed to pitch for Taiwan against a select group of major leaguers. The bone chip was discovered when Kuo met on Wednesday with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
"His history was very specific, so after talking to him on Monday and talking to Dr. ElAttrache, we kind of knew what it was,'' Conte said. "This (X-ray) just confirmed that.''
Conte said Kuo told him he has every intention of pitching next season. Still, there is a chance it could be for another club. This is Kuo's final winter of arbitration eligibility, but the Dodgers are highly unlikely to go that route with him because he made $2.725 million in 2011 and would get at least a moderate raise despite his lackluster season. That means the team is almost certain to non-tender Kuo, making him a free agent a year ahead of schedule, then attempt to re-sign him at a lower salary.
The surgery will be performed in Los Angeles by ElAttrache.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.