Kuo makes spring debut in 'B' game
Dodgers southpaw has been battling left elbow problems
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Hong-Chih Kuo made it through his first game appearance of the spring on Monday unscathed, throwing a scoreless inning in a "B" contest against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch-Glendale.Kuo said he felt fine, if not at 100 percent. Manager Joe Torre said Kuo's curveball still needs work, but the left-hander was spotting his fastball effectively and might appear in an "A" game as early as Thursday, when Manny Ramirez is expected to debut in an exhibition against the World Baseball Classic's Team Korea.
But that's a maybe, as the real test for Kuo comes on Tuesday, because his elbow discomfort in recent years developed the day after he pitched. Meanwhile, the depth of the pitching staff, and particularly the bullpen, already is a concern for club officials."We're not quite there," Torre said. "The starters are all right. But we invited a lot of guys [on Minor League contracts], and we really haven't had anybody jump out at us. [Claudio] Vargas, [Eric] Milton and [Jeff] Weaver, there are a lot of plusses. But the situational left-handers we brought have really, as a whole, not done a lot." Because of that, the Dodgers might go without a second lefty in what Torre guessed would probably be a 12-man staff. The bullpen is particularly thin in numbers, health and experience. Last year's closer, Takashi Saito, was non-tendered after his late-season injury and signed with Boston. Jonathan Broxton, who inherited the closer's role, has missed the last week while pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Kuo hadn't pitched in any type of game until Monday, and Cory Wade's shoulder has been sore since the first day of camp. He probably won't pitch in a game until the weekend. Even if Kuo and Wade are healthy for the start of the season, Broxton and the return of Guillermo Mota give the Dodgers only four certainties for the bullpen. James McDonald figured for a spot following his impressive late-season callup, but his spring ERA is 6.35. Ramon Troncoso was considered likely to make the club coming into camp, but his struggles continued in the "B" game when he started and allowed two runs in two innings, one on a homer. Weaver seems likely to make the club if he continues pitching the way he has. The 27-year-old Kuo pitched 80 innings last season with a 2.14 ERA, but he missed much of September and the National League Division Series when his brittle elbow acted up, and he's been babied this spring to protect him for the regular season. Last spring, coming off a fourth elbow operation, Kuo pitched 10 2/3 innings in seven appearances. Against the White Sox on Monday, he allowed a single but induced a double-play grounder. This year, Torre has said he will try to limit Kuo to no more than one inning per outing. Last year, two-thirds of Kuo's relief appearances (26 of 39) were longer than one inning. The thin state of the bullpen was part of the reason Torre and general manager Ned Colletti stayed at the "B" game long enough to watch the first appearance of Travis Schlichting, one of the more intriguing right-handers in camp. Slowed by back spasms, Schlichting finally took the mound for a perfect inning. He also felt a twinge in his back while fielding a comebacker, but Torre said Schlichting seemed to be fine running the treadmill after his outing.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.