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Scott Elbert stays focused on rehab with uncertain future

The left-handed Elbert put up a 2.32 ERA in 90 appearances for the Dodgers in 2011-2012, with 63 strikeouts and 22 unintentional walks in 66 innings.

USA Today Sports

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers have used a franchise-record 27 pitchers this season, but Scott Elbert isn't one of them. The left-handed relief pitcher is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on in June, at the Dodgers' facility at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, and on Monday joined his teammates in the clubhouse at Chase Field as the Dodgers played the Diamondbacks.

"It's nice, it makes me feel like a baseball player again," Elbert said with a smile.

Elbert was slowed in the second half of 2012 with elbow inflammation, and pitched just four of the Dodgers' final 46 games, spending most of his final two months on two different disabled list stints. He had arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 19, 2012 to cleanup his elbow, then needed another cleanup procedure on Jan. 19.

That second procedure meant nearly all of Elbert's spring training was spent doing rehab, and on March 25 got an injection of platelet-rich plasma into his elbow in hopes that would help the healing process.

For a while it did, as Elbert pitched eight games in 17 days on a minor league rehab assignment for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-a Chattanooga. But after experiencing pain in his elbow his rehab was shut down, and a meeting with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache confirmed a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

He would need Tommy John surgery, the third elbow procedure for Elbert in a 10-month span. The diagnosis was unexpected.

"I didn't think it was that, I thought it was just a strain. But when I got the results and it was 90% torn it was frustrating as heck," Elbert said. "It makes you mad, just because all the rehab I did prior to that was basically a wash now, and I had to start all over. ... In the same sense there is nothing I can do about it. Let's start the rehab and get going on the right track."

Though Elbert felt pain after back-to-back outings on his rehab assignment, he doesn't feel any one event triggered the UCL tear.

"It was just gonna go. It was one of those things that I couldn't do anything to prevent it," Elbert said. "It was gonna go, get broke, fix it again and see what happens."

The positive attitude has served Elbert well, especially since in addition to the remainder of 2013, most of his 2014 season will be spent rehabbing. The diagnosis for a return to a major league mound after Tommy John surgery is a range of 12-18 months, though it varied by pitcher.

"I just basically take it one day at a time," Elbert said. "As long as I continue feeling good, I feel like the process is going to be faster, more like 12 months than 18 months."

Elbert said he is about two weeks from throwing again, which will consist at first of light tossing. Eventually he will progress into a throwing program, with the goal of throwing off flat ground before reporting to spring training in February. Elbert said he expects to be able to throw bullpen sessions during spring training in 2014.

But that's if he is still a Dodger next year. Elbert is arbitration eligible, and though after missing more than a year likely won't cost much he could fall victim to the harsh realities of baseball and get non-tendered, considering his availability for the 2014 campaign is very much uncertain.

But Elbert, who turned 28 on Aug. 13, has the same positive attitude about his future contract status that he has in dealing with his rehab.

"I haven't really thought about it just for the fact that it's not in my hands right now. I hope for the best, obviously," he said. "We'll see what happens in the offseason. I want to stay here."