Vicente Padilla having elbow surgery

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla will undergo surgery on Thursday to free the troublesome nerve at the top of his right elbow, which an MRI exam showed was being trapped by a muscle in his forearm.

General manager Ned Colletti said the team expects Padilla to return during the first half of the season, but the team's medical staff could not be more specific since the condition is rather rare. The procedure, which will be performed in Los Angeles at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache and Dr. Steve Shin, is expected to finally resolve an issue that also landed Padilla on the disabled list for two months early last season.

Padilla, a free agent last winter, passed a physical examination before the Dodgers re-signed him to an incentive-laden, one-year contract with a $2 million base salary. Colletti said Padilla also reported early to spring training and has been throwing off a mound for about three weeks.

"[But] this came back when he started to increase his velocity the other day," Colletti said. "Rather than going through this all season long and wandering back and forth, back and forth, this was the best course of action knowing we still have a week to go in February."

Padilla, last year's Opening Day starter, had been slated to begin the season in the bullpen because there no longer was a spot for him in the rotation.

"If we stay healthy, he probably was going to be in the bullpen," manager Don Mattingly said. "For the guys who are fighting for bullpen spots, it creates another one. And for how long, we don't know."

At the moment, there are two vacancies in the Dodgers' bullpen. Ronald Belisario has failed to show, apparently because of passport problems. Belisario, who lives in Venezuela, also reported a month late last season.

The Dodgers are not holding a spot for him.

"There's competition for jobs out there," Mattingly said.

Colletti said that when Padilla is ready to resume throwing, that should mean a shorter road back to being ready to pitch than it would if the Dodgers still planned to use him as a regular starter.

Padilla is expected to report back to the team's spring-training facility on Friday.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Follow him on Twitter. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.