Vicente Padilla scratched; season over?

HOUSTON -- Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padilla has been scratched from his scheduled start against the Houston Astros on Sunday.

He might be done for the season after a recurrence of the discomfort caused by a bulging disc in his extreme upper back, a condition that recently landed him on the disabled list for two weeks.

Padilla, one of the Dodgers' best starting pitchers all season, has made just one start since his return, giving up three runs in four innings on Monday night at San Diego.

"He didn't feel it during his normal bullpen [Wednesday]," Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. "He threw off flat ground [Saturday] with no problems. But then late [Saturday], he said he was feeling pain."

Conte said there is no way of predicting the severity of the injury or how much time Padilla will miss until he meets with back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins Jr., which might not happen until the team returns to Los Angeles next Thursday night. Conte said if Padilla is sent home early from the road trip to see Watkins, it definitely won't happen before the team arrives in San Francisco on Sunday night.

Given that it is so late in the season and that the Dodgers don't appear to be in contention for a playoff spot, it stands to reason that team medical officials will take a conservative approach.

"If tomorrow were the seventh game of the World Series, then we would probably look at it differently," Conte said.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he won't be surprised if Padilla doesn't pitch again in 2010.

"For the foreseeable future, I don't see Padilla pitching," Torre said.

Torre said rookie Carlos Monasterios -- who has a 4.02 ERA overall but is 2-5 with a 5.13 ERA as a starter -- will start in place of Padilla on Sunday.

The situation casts further doubt upon Padilla's future with the Dodgers. Padilla is one of three members of the starting rotation who will be free agents after the season -- Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda are the others -- and Lilly is clearly the one the club would most like to re-sign. Padilla is 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA, but he might be easier to re-sign than Kuroda, who is 10-12 with a 3.32 ERA. Padilla has a one-year, $5.025 million contract. Kuroda is coming to the end of a three-year, $35.3 million deal and also has the option of returning to his native Japan, where he spent 11 seasons with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Central League.

One possibly unintended effect of Torre's decision to juggle the rotation slightly by inserting rookie John Ely in for a spot start on Saturday night is that it will actually cost Kuroda a start, and probably any chance of reaching 200 innings. Kuroda had been lined up to start the season finale against Arizona on Oct. 3, but the switch pushed him back a day.

"It's a little disappointing, because [200 innings] was one of my goals," Kuroda said after pitching six innings against the Astros on Friday night, with Kenji Nimura translating. "But it's the team's decision, and I have to respect that."

However, Torre said Padilla's injury could change that. Although the fact Monasterios will start in place of Padilla on Sunday should keep the rest of the rotation in order next week, Torre indicated that if Padilla doesn't return, the Dodgers might take advantage of the three remaining off days on the schedule to use only four starters whenever possible, thus keeping Kuroda on track to make four more starts.

Kuroda now has 176 innings. If he has only three starts to get the 24 innings he needs to reach 200, he will need to average eight innings in those starts. If he gets four, he will need to average only six innings. For the season, Kuroda is averaging slightly more than that.

Kuroda remains on pace to shatter his previous high of 183 innings, which he pitched in his rookie season of 2008. Clayton Kershaw, who already has a career-high 183 1/3 innings and four remaining starts, is the only other Dodgers starter with a chance of reaching 200.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.