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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blue Bios: Hong-Chih Kuo

Hong-Chih Kuo 郭泓志 56
Bats: Left Throws: Left Height: 6'1" Weight: 240
Career Stats: 
Win-Loss: 12-15
ERA: 3.19
Awards: 2010 All-Star, 2008 Setup Man of the Year, 2008 NL Relief Pitcher of the Year

In the spirit of the "Year of the Pitcher" Roy Halladay pitched not only his 2nd no-hitter of 2010 but also only the 2nd no-hitter in postseason history. Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers was the only no-no in postseason history until Halladay stepped onto the mound in his first playoff appearance ever in game 1 of the NLDS. The Phillies went on to win over the Cincinnati Reds taking a 1-0 lead in the series. Amazing, historical, once-in-a-lifetime are all words that can describe the game "Doc" Halladay pitched last night. 

In my first installment of Blue Bios, I will profile one of our amazing pitchers, Hong-Chih Kuo. Kuo was born on July 23, 1981 in Tainan City, Taiwan. He became the 4th MLB player from Taiwan when he made his debut, and he was the first Taiwanese player to play in the All-Star game this season. Kuo was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers on June 19, 1999 for a bonus of $1.25 million. Unfortunately he had elbow problems, and he underwent two Tommy John surgeries in 2000 & 2003. It wasn't until 2005 that he was able to pitch regularly. In 2005 he pitched 11 games for the Vero Beach Dodgers and 17 games for the Jacksonville Suns. He came out of the bullpen for his Major League debut on September 2, 2005 against the Colorado Rockies. 

It's hard to remember that this dominant setup man/closer once was a starter. On September 8, 2006, Kuo made his first major league start after he had appeared in more than 30 games as a reliever. In his debut, he pitched 6 shutout innings and helped the Dodgers win over the New York Mets 5-0. He had three more successful starts, and he ended the 2006 season with a 2.59 ERA as a starting pitcher. 

On June 12, 2007, Kuo hit a 412-foot homerun, and he became the first player from Taiwan to hit a homerun in the Majors. 

In 2008, Kuo transitioned into a middle reliver and set-up role where he excelled. He had another elbow surgery in the preseason, and his endurance as a fifth starter was questionable. Kuo picked up his first career save on August 14, 2007 against the Phillies. He pitched two scoreless and hitless innings. Kuo finished the season with a 5-3 record in 42 games. He started 3 games, and made 39 relief appearances. His overall ERA was 2.14 with 96 strikeouts in 80 innings. Kuo's 1.69 ERA led all NL relievers for 2008. In relief, he allowed only 49 hits in 69 1/3 innings striking out 86 batters. Batters had a mere .204 average against him. Kuo had a tricep injury which caused him to miss the last 15 games of the season and the NLDS. Torre activated him for the NLCS where he pitched 3 innings in 3 games allowing 2 hits and 1 run and striking out 3. 

In 2009 Kuo's elbow acted up again and he was put on the DL on May 2. He was activated July 27, and pitched in 35 games finishing the season with a 3.00 ERA out of the pen. 

In 2010, Kuo started out strong in the first half not allowing a hit to 36 consecutive left-handed batters. 
On October 3, 2010, Kuo pitched a scoreless 9th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the season finale, which earned him his 12th save of the season. This set a new Dodgers franchise record by finishing the season with an ERA of 1.20, the record for minimum of 50 innings pitched. Eric Gagne, who is Kuo's idol, held the previous record with an ERA of 1.202. Kuo finished the season with a 3-2 record, pitching 60 innings in relief in 56 appearances, striking out 73 and walking only 18. He converted 12 saves out of 13 opportunities and took over the closer role when Jonathan Broxton melted down in the second half of the season. 

Kuo has had 4 surgeries on his elbow, but he can still throw up to 98 mph and is usually in the mid-90s with his fastball. He has a excellent slider, an occasional curveball, and a changeup. Kuo's resiliency can be seen with his therapy regimen that starts at 12:30pm for a 7:10pm game. Dodgers trainer Conte explained his routine, "I wish you guys could see what he puts himself through," said Conte. "He's in constant motion until 11 at night -- ice, heat, ultrasound, message, stretch, flex, leg work, working all the time just to pitch an inning."

When asked about his health issues Kuo said, "I'm not the only guy with problems," Kuo said. "Maybe I'm the only one with four surgeries, but everybody has issues. I'm not special. I've got a good life. I'm a Major League player; I make some money. I'm happy with what I am." Kuo's talent has been described as a "once-in-a-lifetime arm." 

Kuo is the longest-tenured Dodger, and I have no doubt he will be back next season with an important role in the bullpen sharing closing duties with the young Kenley Jansen. As long as Kuo is healthy, he is dynamite. He signed a one-year contract last year for a base of $950,000 with incentives. He is eligible for salary arbitration, but the Dodgers will probably sign him to another 1 year deal to avoid that. Kuo is single, and there is not much information regarding his personal life. He will continue to pitch in the offseason since this has been found to be more beneficial to him than significant rest. Kuo was one of the only bright starts in the dismal depths of the Dodgers bullpen this year. Thanks for an outstanding season Hong-Chih!

Stay tuned for more Blue Bios to come:)

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