Vicente Padilla could throw in 3-4 weeks

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers will begin the season without right-hander Vicente Padilla, but club officials are hopeful after Padilla underwent surgery on Thursday to free a nerve that was trapped by a muscle in his right forearm that he could begin playing catch before the end of spring training.

The surgery was performed in Los Angeles by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache and Dr. Steve Shin, who conveyed the results to Dodgers trainer Stan Conte at Camelback Ranch.

"Stan said it went well," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "[Padilla] is supposed to be back in Arizona sometime [on Friday], and he'll start the rehab process. What I got was that his best outlook is three or four weeks, then he'll start tossing."

Because this type of surgery is so rare among pitchers, there are no plans for how long the rehabilitation will last. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Wednesday, the day before the surgery, that he had been given reason to believe Padilla would return sometime during the season's first half.

The Dodgers' original plan before the start of spring training was to build up Padilla's innings like a starter even though he was slated to begin the season in the bullpen. Mattingly said that won't be a factor in Padilla's rehab and he will prepare during that time to pitch as a reliever, a plan that in theory should allow him to return sooner.

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