LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers trainer Stan Johnston said Eric Gagne's elbow injury is minor, as elbow injuries go. But the closer will not be allowed to rush back to the mound.

"I'm very optimistic. It's more inflammation than anything," Johnston said of Gagne's sprained medial collateral ligament. "I told Eric, 'You're on the 15-day disabled list. But that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be back in 15 days. You'll be back when you're ready.' "

Gagne reported improvement in the elbow and relief knowing that he did not face a second Tommy John surgery like the one he had in 1997.

"We know it's not major," Gagne said. "Dr. (Frank) Jobe said it's one of the cleanest elbows for a pitcher. I won't rush back. They said 15 days at least. I don't think it will be more than two weeks. But they told me the knee (sprain) would take six weeks and I thought I'd be fine in a week. It's been five weeks. So I'm not saying if it's two weeks or longer. I really don't know."

Tracy on the stump: Manager Jim Tracy called a team meeting for Sunday and he just might have used his media briefing Saturday to test a few talking points.

"We've got a pretty good team on the disabled list right now," he said, mentioning Gagne, Brad Penny, Wilson Alvarez and Jayson Werth, not to mention Darren Dreifort.

"Yet, I sit here feeling confident and optimistic that in their absence we've still got a pretty darn good ballclub. Our division, in my opinion, is a winnable division. It boils down to what I've stressed for four years. Which club executes the little things will go a long way in determining who wins the West in '05. There are some things I'm comfortable with, other things I'm uncomfortable with. There are concerns with each club."

Brazoban's the guy: Tracy said he would continue to manage games as if he had Gagne, only he will call on 24-year-old Yhency Brazoban in the ninth inning with a lead "because I think he can handle it."

Then, Brazoban went out and allowed one run on four hits in the ninth inning against the Angels on Saturday.

Tracy conceded that "the first several days of the season will be somewhat a trial-and-error situation," particularly with the set-up role that figures to be shared by Giovanni Carrara, Duaner Sanchez and Kelly Wunsch.

Brazoban was signed in 1997 by the Yankees as an outfielder and has been pitching only since 2002. He came to the Dodgers in the Kevin Brown trade, raced through Double-A and Triple-A last year and spent two months in the Major Leagues after Guillermo Mota was traded.

He was untouchable in August with a 0.60 ERA but erratic in September with a 4.19 ERA. Although he won six games during the Dodgers' string of late-inning comebacks, he has never had a save -- or even a save opportunity -- in the Major Leagues.

Gagne said he has confidence in Brazoban.

"He's a really smart pitcher and he has a really good closer mentality," Gagne said. "He's the same guy and it doesn't matter if he had a good or bad day the day before. There's a lot of veterans out there (in the bullpen), and I'll be out there to try to help him out. I have lot of faith in him."

Tracy said that the absence of Gagne and Alvarez from the bullpen will not tempt him to leave his starting pitchers in longer than he would if the bullpen was at full strength.

Info:

Opening Day roster: Gagne's injury triggered the surprising addition of rookie pitcher Steve Schmoll to the 25-man roster submitted Saturday night.

Pitchers (12): Derek Lowe, Odalis Perez, Jeff Weaver, Elmer Dessens, Scott Erickson, Brazoban, Giovanni Carrara, Duaner Sanchez, Kelly Wunsch, D.J. Houlton, Buddy Carlyle and Steve Schmoll.

Catchers (2): Jason Phillips, Paul Bako.

Infielders (6): Hee-Seop Choi, Jeff Kent, Cesar Izturis, Jose Valentin, Antonio Perez, Olmedo Saenz.

Outfielders (5): J.D. Drew, Milton Bradley, Ricky Ledee, Jason Grabowski, Jason Repko.

Schmoll is a surprise for many reasons. A right-handed side-armer, he was signed as an undrafted free agent as a fifth-year senior out of the University of Maryland. He pitched in 2003 at the rookie level at Ogden and split 2004, mostly at Class A Vero Beach and one month at Double-A Jacksonville, with respective ERAs of 1.80 and 1.83.

He continued to impress in the Arizona Fall League with a 1.42 ERA, but was not invited to big league camp and reported to Dodgertown with the minor leaguers, who began workouts three weeks after the Major League pitchers. He's pitched three scoreless innings in three "A" game appearances this spring.

"He has devastating stuff, devastating deception, he's a strike-thrower and from what I've seen, I don't see this guy being intimidated by any situation," said Tracy. "We're going to find out relatively quickly."

Schmoll, 25, said he picked up the sidearm motion just messing around late in his college career but went to it exclusively only last year.

"I feel there's no limit where I can pitch," he said. "If I execute my pitches, I can get anybody out."

Four non-roster invitees are among the 25: Erickson, Wunsch, Carlyle and Schmoll.

Other moves: The Dodgers placed Darren Dreifort on the 60-day disabled list and four others on the 15-day disabled list -- Gagne, Penny, Alvarez and Jayson Werth. To make room for Schmoll, Brian Myrow was designated for assignment.

Those not making the team and reassigned were Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura and pitchers Mike Venafro and Ryan Rupe, outfielder Mike Edwards and catcher Mike Rose. Cody Ross was optioned and Oscar Robles was returned to the Mexico City Red Devils.

Nakamura considering demotion: The Japanese star, who walked away from $10 million guaranteed in Japan to play for a $500,000 Major League salary, said he will notify the club on Sunday whether he will accept an assignment to Triple-A Las Vegas.

He was told playing every day at Triple-A would benefit him more than riding the Dodger bench, and the latter wasn't even an option with the club carrying 12 pitchers.

"In my mind, I'm not perfectly satisfied with the answer," said Nakamura, whose eighth-inning single off Francisco Rodriguez raised his spring average to .295. "How much do I have to hit? How much defense do I have to show? I thought the best player gets to stay. If I couldn't hit at all, that's one thing. I thought I put up the numbers to satisfy the decision makers. Maybe I had to hit .500 and hit 10 home runs. I'm not sure."