As Kuo fights yips, Blass recalls own struggles
Condition inherited ex-Pirates pitcher's name four decades ago
PITTSBURGH -- He was an All-Star pitcher stricken by the yips.
So if anybody has some idea what Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo is going through, it's longtime Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass.
Kuo was put on the disabled list Wednesday with anxiety disorder, what golfers call the "yips," and what four decades ago became known as "Steve Blass disease." In simple terms, it is a disconnect between the mind and body that leaves athletes incapable of performing the most ordinary motor-skill tasks.
"I wasn't aware of his history [four elbow operations and a three-month case of the yips in 2009], but he still seemed to be pitching somewhat effectively," Blass said. "Mine was total. I tried everything -- psychiatrists, visualization, transcendental meditation. I tried it all. I did it all, because I didn't want to be 85 and wonder if that might have worked."
Unfortunately for Blass, a National League Cy Young runner-up in 1972 and World Series hero, nothing worked. He said his wildness started in the middle of the 1973 season, continued through 1974 and he retired when it was no better in Spring Training of 1975 at the age of 32.
"When I started to slide, it never came back," he said. "That lends me to believe there is some degree of management on Kuo's part, because it seems to come and go."
There is a theory that the syndrome can be brought on by an injury, in Kuo's case his four elbow operations. Blass said he was never hurt.
"I always try thinking about what it's like coming back from surgery," he said. "Would I trust it? Does my mind believe it won't blow out? There can be anxiety right there just thinking about turning it loose."
Blass said he worked with California sports psychologist Richard Crowley, who also worked with former Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax. Blass said he now is able to pitch at baseball fantasy camps.
"I was anxious about it, but it's fun," he said. "I'm aware of it [the wildness]. But it's been OK."
Then Blass captured the essence of what Kuo apparently was dealing with in recent weeks, based on what Kuo told trainer Stan Conte and manager Don Mattingly before leaving the club.
"The saddest part for me when it happened was thinking that I shouldn't be out there," Blass said. "That's the worst thing for an athlete, to be embarrassed. It got awful bad toward the end. It is a fine line, being out there naked, in front of 40,000 people and not being able to do your job."
Furcal likely to begin rehab stint on Saturday
PITTSBURGH -- Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, on the 15-day disabled list with a broken left thumb, expects to begin a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Albuquerque on Saturday.
Furcal said he still has a little tenderness when batting right-handed, but otherwise his thumb is healed. Manager Don Mattingly said he expects Furcal to need 25-30 at-bats to be ready to return to the Major Leagues, and maybe more if he isn't able to bat right-handed soon.
"He needs to be able to hit right-handed," said Mattingly. "You can't burn two players in this league every time they make a switch. I don't think it will be another two weeks. We're talking about days. He feels better every day. He's been hitting right-handed soft toss.
"He's been out a while [since April 11] and I'd like him to be sharp when he gets back. The biggest thing is for him to be comfortable. The last thing you want is him out there feeling like he might hurt himself and then not playing right."
Furcal said he hit right-handed in the batting cage and still occasionally feels a twinge. But he said it doesn't bother him batting left-handed or with any defensive action. He said initially he will bat right-handed against left-handed pitching, even if initially he's bunting or taking pitches.
Mattingly said Casey Blake, put on the disabled list after surgery for an elbow staph infection, had his stitches removed and continues to add baseball activities each day. He's taking grounders and has begun gently swinging a fungo bat to increase range of motion in the elbow.
Left fielder Marcus Thames, on the disabled list with a pulled quad muscle, is still "a ways away," said Mattingly.
Uribe says Monday ejection draws $1,000 fine
PITTSBURGH -- Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe said he was fined $1,000 for his ejection from Monday night's game, but manager Don Mattingly, who also was ejected, said he hadn't received notice of a fine but expects one.
Both were banished for arguing third-base umpire Mike DiMuro's out call of Uribe's sinking line drive in the eighth inning of the Dodgers' 4-1 loss to the Pirates. DiMuro ruled that Pirates left fielder Jose Tabata made a sliding catch, but replays showed -- and the umpires conceded postgame -- that the play was a trap.
Uribe was ejected for making a comment to DiMuro when he took the field for the bottom of the eighth inning. Uribe then had to be restrained by second-base umpire Jim Reynolds from reaching DiMuro.
Mattingly, who initially argued with DiMuro and returned to the dugout, re-engaged DiMuro after Uribe's ejection and was tossed for continuing the argument.
It was Mattingly's first ejection as a Dodgers manager and Uribe's first as a Dodger.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.