Dodgers reliever Scott Elbert hasn't been able to throw for an extended period of time without some sort of pain in his left elbow since late July. But the left-hander accepts it as just part of the game.
"It's frustrating but it's part of the game," he said. "We play baseball, and injuries do happen. You have to deal with it."
Elbert had arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 19 to clean up scar tissue in his left elbow, after spending two stints on the disabled list with elbow inflammation in the final two months of the season. But after pain returned during rehab, Elbert had to have another procedure.
"The first week was good, second week was bad," Elbert said. "We did some rehab to try to get it to calm back down but it never did so we decided to go back in in January and clean it up."
During arthroscopic surgery on Jan. 23 in Los Angeles, a new area of cartilage damage was discovered and removed. Elbert began physical therapy three days later, and is currently doing rehab work. He is participating in all workout drills that don't involve throwing, and he said he expects to be able to throw a baseball some time around the first week of March.
Elbert is being cautious in his return.
"I want to take advantage of the time that the rehab offers. I want to make sure that when I do come back it's for the longevity of my career and not just to rush back for 2013," Elbert said. "I want it to last forever."
Elbert was 1-1 in 2012 with a 2.20 ERA in 43 games, with 29 strikeouts and 13 walks in 32⅔ innings. Outside of a 10-day period in August when Randy Choate was on the team, Elbert was the only left-handed pitcher on the team last season and was often used as a specialist to face lefties.
In 15 of Elbert's 43 games in 2012 he recorded one out or less, and in 17 games he faced two batters or less. But he still sees himself as a reliever who can face both left-handers and right-handers.
"I look at every hitter the same. They're all good hitters, so you've got to respect that. You have to get each of them out any which way you can," Elbert said. "I obviously prepare more for lefties because it's probably the situation I'm coming in on, but I like to know the whole lineup to be prepared for anything."
Left-handed batters hit .271/.342/.386 in 2012 against Elbert, while righties hit just .170/.259/.255. In his career, opposing lefties have hit .246/.327/.353 while opposing right-handers have hit .236/.322/.401.
"I want to be prepared for anything. If I limit myself to just being a lefty, I don't want to be that guy. I want to be used in any situation," Elbert said. "Whenever it comes down to being just a lefty specialist, I don't categorize myself into that. I like to be a bullpen pitcher. My stuff can play to both sides."
With four relievers under contract (Brandon League, Ronald Belisario, Matt Guerrier, and J.P. Howell) and Kenley Jansen firmly holding a spot, the bullpen is essentially down to several pitchers fighting for two spots. One of those spots seems eventually earmarked for Elbert, who would give manager Don Mattingly a second left-hander in addition to Howell.
"It's nice to have two (lefties), honestly. But I think you want the best arms. You don't want lefties that aren't getting people out," Mattingly said. "You'd like to have some kind of weapons against those guys in the sixth and the ninth, instead of just the one time, and when do I use the bullet."
Elbert is out of options, and treating this like any other spring training.
"I look at it like I have to make the team every year. I stay with that mentality because that keeps the drive going, and keeps me focused on what I have to get done," Elbert said.