Kuo may replace Saito on NLCS roster
With lefty reliever returning, struggling closer could be bumped
PHILADELPHIA -- Closer Takashi Saito could be bumped off the Dodgers National League Championship Series roster to make room for returning left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.
Saito's status was put in serious doubt when he struggled with his mechanics during a one-inning simulated game Monday. While the Dodgers were taking batting practice Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park in preparation for Thursday night's Game 1, Saito went through a shadow bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, working on his motion without throwing the ball.
After the Dodgers completed that workout, Saito was called into a meeting with Honeycutt, manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti. After that, while the Phillies were working out, Saito went back to the bullpen with Torre and Honeycutt. Working from the stretch, he threw a 30-pitch bullpen session. How effective Saito would be Thursday, one day after making 30 pitches with the brass watching, is another part of the equation.
The Dodgers must submit their roster by 10 a.m. ET on Thursday, and Torre said officials would continue talking before making a decision.
Saito, 38, missed two months this season with a partially torn elbow ligament and rehabilitated the injury without surgery. He returned to make six regular-season appearances (allowing three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings) and was ineffective in his only National League Division Series appearance, allowing sharp base hits to each of the three Cubs batters he faced in Game 2.
"He sort of got out of whack mechanically and he's trying to get back to where he was," said Torre. "He's trying to get comfortable again with what Rick has been talking to him about, to get the same delivery.
"The most important thing is for him to go out and be able to know what to expect. Right now, he's thinking about mechanics, and to do that takes the attention away from what he's out there to do. Physically, there's no issue."
But there is an issue whether Saito is comfortable with his balance and delivery, as well as whether the staff is comfortable using him. Before the bullpen session, Torre backed off earlier comments that Saito would be his closer. In Saturday's NLDS clincher, Broxton and his 100-mph fastball recorded the final four outs for the save, three on strikeouts.
"The way Broxton pitched the other day, he certainly embraced that opportunity," Torre said. "Sammy is forcing it a bit. I don't think there's anything physically wrong. It's like he's overthrowing right now. He's going to have to feel good about himself. For a pitcher to come into a situation, you have to be comfortable with what you're doing."
Saito conceded that his mechanics have been inconsistent. "I would never say I'm off the roster -- that's for them to decide," said Saito. "If what I have is not enough, they will give me time to work on mechanics and be ready for the World Series."
New rosters are submitted before the start of each series. Moves can be made during a series for an injured player, but any player removed from a postseason roster during that series becomes ineligible for the next postseason series.
Meanwhile, Kuo seems to have progressed enough to be activated, even though he has pitched only one inning of game action in the last month. Torre said Kuo came out of a bullpen session Sunday and simulated game Tuesday no longer bothered by discomfort in his triceps.
"Right now, it appears we'll add him to the roster," Torre said. "We all felt that if he felt good, he'd give us a valuable piece. Is he perfect? Probably not. The doctors feel it's safe to send him out there."
Kuo, who has had four operations on his elbow and who missed the NL Division Series with the Cubs, could be critical to the Dodgers' chances in this series. He was lights-out in three appearances against the Phillies this year, allowing one hit over five scoreless innings and notching his lone save of the season.
The Dodgers never used or needed a left-hander against the Cubs, but Kuo would be a key element in club tactics for this series, because the Phillies have lethal left-handed hitters in their lineup like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Torre said he planned to stick with 11 pitchers and did not anticipate making any changes to the position players he had for the NLDS.
"I don't see any reason to do anything different," he said.
If Saito remains active, Kuo would probably take the spot of rookie James McDonald.
Torre will, however, juggle his batting order against Philadelphia's left-handed starting pitchers, beginning with Cole Hamels in Game 1. Russell Martin and Andre Ethier, who batted second and fourth respectively against the Cubs, will switch places. Blake DeWitt and Casey Blake, who batted seventh and eighth respectively against the Cubs, also will switch spots against left-handers.
Torre said Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda will start Games 1, 2 and 3. The Dodgers are prepared to start Lowe on three days' rest in Game 4, but Torre said Greg Maddux and Clayton Kershaw also are candidates. Maddux would seem the least likely, according to Torre, because of the flexibility and resiliency he showed pitching out of the bullpen against the Cubs.
The remainder of the pitching staff will be Broxton, Cory Wade, Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park, Kuo and either Saito or McDonald.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.