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[SPORTS] Hong-Chih Kuo (from Taiwan) Debuts for L.A. Dodgers

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  • madchinaman
    Kuo s first start a smash for Dodgers Rookie lefty dominates NL-best Mets; Furcal, Nomar go deep By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 15, 2006
      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
      another start.

      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
      three times."

      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.
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