PITTSBURGH -- Dodgers All-Star reliever Hong-Chih Kuo was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with anxiety disorder, leaving his future in doubt and the Dodgers' bullpen in crisis.Kuo, who has had four elbow operations, also has had several bouts of the yips, a disconnect between the mind and body that leaves athletes incapable of performing the most ordinary motor-skill tasks. In Kuo's case, that has been throwing a baseball accurately. Among Major Leaguers that in recent years have publicly battled anxiety disorder are Joey Votto, Zack Greinke, Dontrelle Willis and Khalil Greene. Among players who have battled the yips are former Dodgers Steve Sax and Gary Bennett, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel and current Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass. Tuesday night, Kuo told trainer Stan Conte that he could no longer pitch. He met with manager Don Mattingly and pitching coaches Rick Honeycutt and Ken Howell, Mattingly saying he was not surprised with Kuo's decision because he had been discussing it for a while. Kuo left Pittsburgh for Los Angeles before the game and was placed on the disabled list indefinitely. It is not unlike what happened to Kuo in 2009, when he spent three months rehabbing in Arizona before overcoming the yips and returning to help the Dodgers reach the playoffs. The difference is, that time he was on the shelf with what was officially termed left elbow irritation. Teammate Hiroki Kuroda, after pitching the Dodgers to victory Wednesday night, revealed that he had the yips in high school and college and had been talking frequently to Kuo. "I'm very concerned. I talked to him a lot in the past week," said Kuroda. "There are so many things only he can understand. I, myself, went through something similar in the past. The degree seems to depend on the player. I can't give you an easy solution for Kuo." Kuroda said he didn't throw in a game during his wild spell in high school and didn't pitch in a game during his freshman year of college. "I threw batting practice and so many times the hitters didn't attempt to swing at a pitch," he said. An emotional Mattingly had trouble explaining what happened to Kuo or what will happen. There is no timetable for a return, other than to give Kuo time to decompress and, likely, seek counseling. Some teammates believe Kuo wants to retire. "The main thing, I think, as much as anything, he didn't feel like he could do it," said Mattingly. "Kuo has had some issues before. It's hard for me to understand it and hard to talk about it. I've seen it with Knoblauch in New York a little bit. "I didn't know what to tell him. There is so much respect for him, he's such a competitor and everything he's been through with the surgeries. He's got so much respect in the clubhouse for what he's done. I don't know where it goes from here; it's a medical decision." Kuo's most recent outing was Monday night, when he allowed RBI doubles to the only two batters he faced. It was his third appearance in four days, which included a game-losing throwing error Kuo committed on a routine bunt. On Tuesday, Kuo said: "I've got to be better, that's all. I feel all right." This came at a time when Mattingly said Kuo had convinced the club to treat him like a normal pitcher, instead of using the kid gloves that had been the norm since he finally reached the Major Leagues after battling chronic elbow problems that led to four operations, two of them Tommy John reconstructions. Through nine games this year, Kuo had an 11.57 ERA. He was activated May 1 after missing 16 games on the DL with what officially was listed as a sore lower back, but also was prompted by another case of the yips. Last year, it appeared Kuo had finally overcome his demons, making the All-Star team and setting a franchise record for the lowest ERA at 1.20. He also led all relievers with a .139 opponent batting average, with left-handers going a paltry 6-for-63 (.095), and he inherited the Dodgers' closer role when Jonathan Broxton struggled. "The demons he's had to fight off -- I don't know how he's done it," former teammate Randy Wolf said in 2009. "It's amazing, because the scariest things are the ones we create in our head and with him it snowballed into that. You see guys with the yips that never recover from it. For some reason, that's a problem that can stick with you. For Kuo, he battled back and conquered it. We are all so happy for him. Hong-Chih doesn't have quit in him." Kuo has been in the organization longer than anyone on the roster. Signed in 1999 out of Taiwan at age 17, he has played for five Dodgers managers, five general managers and two owners. To replace Kuo on the roster, the Dodgers recalled Scott Elbert, who coincidentally missed half of the 2010 season dealing with emotional issues. Elbert, a former No. 1 Draft pick, has 13 appearances for Albuquerque with a 2-0 mark and 5.02 ERA, apparently is still plagued by wildness. In 14 1/3 innings, Elbert has issued nine walks with 16 strikeouts. Seven of his eight earned runs allowed have come in two appearances.
Elbert makes 'huge step' in returning to Dodgers
PITTSBURGH -- The circumstances are almost eerie, Hong-Chih Kuo being placed on the disabled list by the Dodgers on Wednesday for anxiety disorder and being replaced in the bullpen by Scott Elbert, who left Triple-A Albuquerque for the last half of the 2010 season for personal issues he later said were related to pressure.
Elbert said this spring it was all about dealing with the pressure, on and off the field. He sees his return to the Major Leagues as a "huge step," conceding that last summer he wasn't sure he would even return to the game."It was one of those things, really you don't know," he said when asked if he thought his career was over. "It didn't happen that way. Thank God I had the opportunity again." A former No. 1 Draft pick, Elbert had 13 appearances for Albuquerque with a 2-0 mark and 5.02 ERA, apparently still plagued by occasional wildness. In 14 1/3 innings, Elbert has issued nine walks with 16 strikeouts. Seven of his eight earned runs allowed have come in two appearances. He said his problems generally occurred when he was asked to pitch a second inning of relief. "Mentally, I was prepared for one inning, which was my fault," he said. "I should be prepared for anything." Elbert has had six previous Major League callups, but he said this one is different. "I feel more relaxed," he said. "It's something that comes with maturity and nature, if that's what it means to be special," he said. "I'm not a new face to them. I'm not working to try to do too much. Let them hit it and put it in play. I've grown up a little bit. A lot of it is seeing my two kids and having patience with them. "I just have to be myself and not worry what anybody else things about me. It's part of growing up." Elbert tried to return to the Isotopes in August, but developed shoulder tendinitis and was shut down. He worked his way back into shape in time to pitch for manager Don Mattingly in the Arizona Fall League. The club decided Elbert should pitch exclusively out of the bullpen, instead of the yo-yo handling of past years when he would start in the Minor Leagues but be used in relief during his six Major League callups over the last three seasons.
Dodgers hopeful Hawksworth will avoid DL
PITTSBURGH -- There was some good news for the Dodgers on Wednesday, with Blake Hawksworth, the reliever who left Tuesday night's game with a strained right groin.Hawksworth had an MRI exam on Wednesday and said he was day to day with a mild strain. Manager Don Mattingly agreed that the initial plan was not to put Hawksworth on the disabled list, as long as the injury did not sideline him more than three days. "If it turns into more than a couple days, we're talking about something different," Mattingly said. "You don't want to be caught short with a bullpen guy. We're hoping like three days. If it gets toward a week, it depends on how the game goes." Hawksworth said he was also told he had a hip impingement that would be dealt with through a change in his workout. "I felt pretty optimistic last night, because I've gone through it before," said Hawksworth, who strained the same muscle during Spring Training 2010. "This is a good report and we'll just see. I know we're a little short down there [in the bullpen]. I'm aware of it. It's their decision to make."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.