Dodgers' closer Saito strikes out two in return; velocity hovered around 90 mph

PITTSBURGH -- Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Takashi Saito made his first appearance since being diagnosed with a sprained ligament in his right elbow two months ago, pitching a scoreless eighth inning in Los Angeles' 8-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night.

Saito, the Dodgers' closer until he was hurt, walked one and struck out two while facing four batters. Manager Joe Torre wanted to use Saito in what he called "a non-stressful situation" his first time out, and the Dodgers led 8-0 at the time.

"For the first time out, and I'm sure he was anxious about it, he was fine," Torre said. "He was probably throwing better in the bullpen but, as long as he did it physically, I'm not worried about the other stuff. I thought his command was pretty good."

Saito threw 13 of 21 pitches for strikes, though his velocity was mostly around 90 miles per hour, down from his mid-90s range before he left a July 12 game at Florida with elbow tightness.

"I was relaxed, I had a lot of run support," Saito said. "My performance wasn't as usual, but I was relaxed out there. I usually come in close situations, that was main difference."

Saito won't pitch Tuesday, but Torre hopes to use the right-hander on Wednesday -- again, Torre hopes it won't be in a close game.

The 38-year-old Saito said it meant a lot to pitch again after his season was in doubt. He chose not to have what would have been season-ending surgery and attempted instead to rehabilitate what often is a significant injury.

"The last two months, I had a lot to think about, so it's really hard to express my feelings right now, but I was able to pitch," Saito said.

Getting a healthy Saito would be a major plus for the Dodgers, who have turned a 4½-game deficit in the NL West on Aug. 29 into a healthy lead against Arizona with less than two weeks to play. Los Angeles won Monday for the 13th time in 15 games.

Saito is 3-3 with a 2.13 ERA in 40 games and has 17 saves in 20 chances. He was an NL All-Star last year, when he had 39 saves. He has converted 80 of 89 save opportunities, the third-best percentage (89.9 percent) since the save became an official statistic.

The Dodgers' Brad Penny, recovering from a shoulder injury, allowed Adam LaRoche's two-run homer while pitching the ninth in his second appearance since Aug. 13. Torre visited the mound before the homer because he felt the right-hander looked stiff.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow [Tuesday]," Torre said.