[SPORTS] Hong-Chih Kuo (from Taiwan) Debuts for L.A. Dodgers
- Kuo's first start a smash for Dodgers
Rookie lefty dominates NL-best Mets; Furcal, Nomar go deep
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Hong-Chih Kuo is from Taiwan, but the Dodgers have been
treating him like fine china.
They've feared that a left elbow twice reconstructed by Tommy John
surgery couldn't withstand the demands of being a starting pitcher,
so they had the 25-year-old relieve all year. For at least one huge
emergency start against the Mets on Friday night, he proved his
caretakers happily wrong.
As Dodgers rookies have done all season, Kuo stepped up in a crucial
game and delivered like a veteran. Pitching exclusively from the
stretch in his first career start, he threw six scoreless innings in
a 5-0 shutout win that kept the Dodgers in first place in the
National League West and will keep Kuo in the rotation for at least
Kuo, who won his first career game, received home runs from Rafael
Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra, but needed nothing more than the two
gift runs that scored in the first inning on David Wright's throwing
And somewhere out there in retirement land, another star-crossed
former Dodgers pitcher should take some satisfaction in knowing that
Kuo might not have done this without his help.
"When I had to have the second operation, I thought about quitting
and going home, but Darren Dreifort told me to keep going," Kuo
said, after the waves of Taiwanese reporters subsided. "He said he
was 30 years old and he had two surgeries, and he was still
pitching, and I should keep going, too."
Kuo also credited guidance from Eric Gagne and support from family
and friends for picking him up when he repeatedly felt down.
Previous Dodgers administrations, having invested a $1.25 million
signing bonus in Kuo as a 17-year-old, stuck with him, and the
reward came against the toughest lineup in the league, with the
Dodgers reeling from four losses in five days.
"He looked 100 percent different as a starter from a reliever," said
Furcal, whose torrid second half continued with two hits and two
runs. "When a rookie comes out of the bullpen and walks a couple
guys, they take him out of the game. As a starter, he stays in. This
is what we were looking for now, somebody coming up from the Minor
Leagues and helping you out."
Kuo battled butterflies in the first inning when he issued two of
his three walks, but got a major assist when catcher Russell Martin
threw out Jose Reyes trying to steal third base. He sailed after
that, not allowing his first hits until the fifth inning, finishing
with three hits allowed and seven strikeouts in six innings. Kuo
used 90 pitches, some reaching 96 mph, and said he could have gone
longer on what was, fittingly, Taiwanese Heritage Night at Shea
"His fastball is really sneaky, which is why he gets a lot of swings
and misses," said Martin. "His slider was tight tonight. The
difference in him starting and relieving is that he has the time to
establish his fastball, and when the hitters cheat, he can use his
offspeed [pitches] more. He has the stuff to face a lineup two or
Kuo agrees with all of that, and added that as a starting pitcher,
he has sufficient time to loosen up that bionic arm, compared with
the sometimes hurried warmups required from a reliever.
"The difference in him starting and relieving is that he has the
time to establish his fastball, and when the hitters cheat, he can
use his off-speed [pitches] more. He has the stuff to face a lineup
two or three times."
-- Russell Martin, on Hong-Chih Kuo
"I feel better warming up as a starter," he said. "I'm more
comfortable, but I do whatever they tell me to."
Manager Grady Little said he will tell Kuo he's starting Thursday in
Chicago against the Cubs. Kuo started Friday as a fill-in for the
injured Chad Billingsley, who is expected to return to the rotation
next weekend. Kuo could then emerge as the replacement for Mark
Hendrickson, who has been sent to the bullpen.
"[Kuo] deserves to have another chance," said Little. "At least one
or two more, and maybe 10 years worth."
Little was honest explaining why it took the Dodgers five months to
figure out that Kuo should be a starter.
"Maybe he's showed where his strongest desires were, but the
situation in Spring Training, after all of the arm problems of the
past, we were a little bit scared to use him for a length of time,"
Little said. "But he showed he was healthy at Triple-A starting."
Kuo was demoted to Triple-A twice after unsuccessful bullpen stints
with the Dodgers this year, and was told to start at Las Vegas
because added innings would provide additional opportunity to refine
his command. As recently as two weeks ago, management still
considered him a reliever. But the unraveling of the back end of the
Dodgers rotation and Kuo's success starting at Las Vegas led to
Friday night's assignment.
And persistence kept him in the sport after he suffered his elbow
injury in spectacularly tragic fashion. In his professional debut on
April 10, 2000, he struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced, blew
out his elbow ligament, made two more pitches to end the inning,
then underwent a first Tommy John surgery.
He resumed pitching 14 months later, but problems persisted and he
required the procedure again, forcing him to miss the entire 2003
season. He also underwent another operation to clear scar tissue
from the transplanted ligament, a common side effect. He pitched in
only three games in 2004 and entered the 2005 season with a total of
40 1/3 innings pitched in five years.
Finally healthy, Kuo made up for lost time with a meteoric rise last
year that began at Class A Vero Beach and ended with a September
callup to the Major Leagues from Double-A. This is his third stint
with the big-league club this year.