Kuo will start finale of Taiwan series
Veteran Dodgers reliever gets the nod in homeland
PHOENIX -- Reliever Hong-Chih Kuo will get the start against his Taiwanese countrymen in Sunday's finale of the Dodgers' three-game goodwill series against an All-Star team from the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Kuo -- who has 14 Major League starts, but none since 2008 because of a brittle elbow -- was given the call by manager Joe Torre to replace Charlie Haeger, who was scratched after injuring his hip in a relief appearance Tuesday.
Kuo was originally scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday (which hasn't changed), then pitch one inning of relief on Sunday at Kaohsiung County Stadium in the southern part of the island nation, not far from Kuo's home in Tainan City. Instead, that one inning will come at the start of the game.
His first appearance of the spring was an impressive one Tuesday, a perfect inning with two strikeouts.
"I looked up and the inning was over," said Torre.
At age 17, Kuo became the first high school player from Taiwan to sign with a Major League team in 1999. He later overcame four elbow operations (two of them Tommy John reconstructions) to become one of the most effective left-handed setup relievers in the game. He's been in the organization longer than any player other than Jason Repko, surviving four Dodgers managers, five general managers and two owners.
Last year, he additionally was plagued by a mysterious case of the yips, not only unable to throw strikes, but catchable pitches. After struggling to a 6.75 ERA before being disabled, Kuo returned from a three-month rehab with a 2.19 ERA in his final 28 appearances. In his last two seasons, he is 7-3 with a 2.37 ERA.
"It's good to see the look on his face after everything he's gone through," Torre said. "He's a man. He gives you everything he has. It's fun to see when he's feeling good. It gets to the point, with the surgeries he's had in the past, you don't wish anything bad on anybody, but you wonder if not pitching for a while has helped him. Last year, at the end of the year, he was terrific.
"It's nice to have him where you're not giving him special care. That's a real good sign for me. He's maintained a level of health. There's not a person in the clubhouse ... not hoping everything goes well for him."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.