Kuo likely to begin season on DL

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo probably will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after experiencing continued discomfort in his left elbow Friday, opening yet another spot in a suddenly wide-open bullpen that was close to being fully stocked at the start of spring training.

Kuo was shut down for the second time in a week. He underwent a precautionary MRI exam earlier this week that showed no cause for concern, and the injury still doesn't appear serious. But Kuo has pitched in only two games this spring, and this marks the third time he has either been scratched from a scheduled appearance or shut down from throwing.

"Nothing felt really bad, but it wasn't real good as far as how it felt," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "I don't think he will be shut down for an extended period of time, but we will have to see what happens."

The problem now is that even if Kuo isn't sidelined for more than a couple of days, the Dodgers don't have much time. He will have to throw off a mound once, maybe twice, before getting into a spring training game, and with the regular-season opener only 10 days away, there isn't time for Kuo to get enough work in.

That means he is almost certainly headed for the 15-day DL.

"It wouldn't surprise me," Torre said. "It's just the fact that we're this close to the end. But I'm not sure at this point."

Kuo has a long history of elbow problems and has undergone four surgeries, including two Tommy John reconstructions.

The Dodgers already are without reliever Ronald Belisario, who would have been a lock for the bullpen but will begin the season in the minor leagues if he shows up. With barely a week to go in spring training, he still hasn't arrived because of visa problems in his native Venezuela.

That leaves closer Jonathan Broxton, setup man George Sherrill and Ramon Troncoso as the only players with major league contracts and guaranteed bullpen spots. Non-roster right-hander Jeff Weaver is also considered a lock for one of the remaining spots. Rule-5 pick Carlos Monasterios may be, as well. While he isn't deemed ready for the majors, club officials believe his stuff is good enough they don't want to lose him.

If Kuo starts on the DL, that would leave two more openings in what figures to be a seven-man bullpen. One of those probably will go to non-roster right-hander Ramon Ortiz, who is having an outstanding spring (1.29 ERA) but was cut back to a single inning in his most recent appearance Thursday, a clear indication he no longer is being considered for the vacant fifth starter's spot. The other spot probably will go to either lefty Eric Stults or right-handed knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, both of whom are out of minor league options.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com