Right-hander recovering from surgeries last fall

LOS ANGELES -- Darren Dreifort is out of sight, but not out of manager Jim Tracy's mind.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' injury-jinxed right-hander is back home in Wichita, Kan., where he will be spending his birthday on the disabled list for the second time in four years.

Dreifort, who turns 33 on Tuesday, is recovering from surgery on his left hip in September and another on his right knee in October. The 12-year veteran's future in the major leagues looks dim, at best.

When asked on Sunday if Dreifort would pitch this season, Tracy said, "My guess would be no. You wonder if Dreif is ever going to pitch again."

Dreifort, the second overall pick in the June 1993 draft, is 40-60 with a 4.36 ERA in the majors. He has made 26 starts and 60 relief appearances since signing a five-year, $55 million contract before the 2001 campaign. That contract expires at the end of this season.

"I don't know that there's a player over the course of the five years I've managed here -- and I respect them all and love them all -- but this guy, from the standpoint of courage, is maybe as courageous a player as I've managed," Tracy said. "Do you realize how many times this guy's been operated on? How many times he's been put on that table, getting anesthesia and getting himself surgically repaired? I mean, how much can one take?"

Dreifort's injury jinx began in 1995, when he was sidelined for the entire season after undergoing his first Tommy John procedure to repair a torn ligament in his elbow.

Two years later, he sat out for more than a month with tendinitis in his troublesome elbow. In 2001, he missed the final three months and needed a second Tommy John operation, causing him to miss all of 2002.

Dreifort was sidelined for the final four months of the 2003 campaign after undergoing surgery to repair a medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

Then last year, a torn anterior collateral ligament in his right knee put him on the shelf for the final six weeks. He last pitched on Aug. 16, and since then he's had four surgical procedures -- on his left hip, right knee, left knee and right shoulder.

"There were times in between his surgeries where you watched him work out in that weight room and the rehab that he did to get himself back," Tracy said. "Then there were other times that he had to step back and say, 'I've got to go back and start all over again.'

"You know how difficult that is on your mind? But he never wavered. And when he did get back fit and able to pitch again, we saw some brilliant moments when he was healthy," he said.