Saito Looks Good After Bullpen Session

The Dodgers closer, who has saved 80 games in the last three seasons, Takashi Saito, has been disabled since July 13 with a torn right elbow ligament. Yesterday, he threw 26 pitches in a simulated game and announced he was ready for game action. "I did everything I had to do, everything I could do. I'm ready to go," said Saito.

. The 38-year-old Saito admitted his pitches weren't 100 percent sharp due to the face he didn't have time to work on them on a minor league rehab assignment.

In the simulated game, Saito's breaking pitches were flat at the outset, according to Torre, but later "he threw a couple very sharp ones and his fastball had a lot of life."

However, he said he was pleased to be back after facing the possibility of surgery, or worse. He said the pain was initially so sharp that he had thought about retirement but that he has now changed his mind.

He would not speculate about pitching next season.

Torre said Saito would be worked back into action and would not close, "until we sense that he's comfortable locating his pitches. His strength is location."

After that, though, Saito might return to the closer's role, where he has saved 80 games for the Dodgers over the past three seasons.

Setup man Jonathan Broxton has been adequate as the Dodgers' closer in Saito's absense, converting 13 of 15 save opportunities, but he has been shaky at times even when he has been successful.

Shortstop Rafael Furcal participated in the simulated game, and it was apparent that we wasn't quite ready for prime time.

He hasn't played since rupturing a disk in his back in May and undergoing surgery, and afterwards he said that he felt no pain.

"I felt like I was in slow motion, and he wasn't," said Furcal. "It's tough. I feel like I need more time. It's not frustrating. I haven't played for four months. I just have to get a little better every day."

With the minor league season over, neither he nor Saito could participate in a few rehab games before attempting to get back into the pennant race.

"Just the fact he was willing to do it was good," said Torre. "Hitting never bothered him. He's probably a week away from playing, without setbacks. We'll throw him out there for maybe five innings, once he's convinced there are no limitations. He's doing all the baseball stuff."

Manager Joe Torre said if Furcal doesn't suffer a setback, he could be activated sometime next week. But Furcal said, "I don't want to be a distraction to the team the way they are playing right now.

"I don't think I should go out there saying I'm going to play all nine innings the first time and then have to come out after the second or third inning. I just want to try to get healthy, and then I can pinch run or maybe bunt if they need me to."

To add to his problems, Furcal has been slowed by a tight hamstring, and Torre said he honestly wasn't sure whether Furcal will be able to help the club if it makes the postseason.

"He'll be the toughest call," Torre said. "Even if he's ready, he's been away so long, can you expect him to go out every day, every inning? We need him around, active or not. He'll probably be the very last thing we know.

"It's not about his back, it's about his conditioning; all the stuff you do in Spring Training. But I'd rather have tough decisions that beat the bushes to find people to fill positions."

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