Kuo replaces Heyward on NL All-Star team
Lefty reliever is first Taiwan-born player to earn honor
LOS ANGELES -- That Hong-Chih Kuo is able to still pitch is a miracle to start with -- or at least a testament to the dedication he and the Dodgers medical staff have. That he has been able to pitch well enough to earn an All-Star appearance is something else.
Kuo on Sunday was named to the National League All-Star team, and on Tuesday he is set to become the first Taiwan-born player to appear in the Midsummer Classic.
"It's a dream come true for me," Kuo said after batting practice Sunday at Dodger Stadium.
Kuo became the second Dodgers player in a span of less than a day to be added to the All-Star roster, taking the place of injured Braves right fielder Jason Heyward. Shortstop Rafael Furcal was added in place of the Mets' Jose Reyes on Saturday, bringing the Dodgers' total representation in Anaheim to four with starting outfielder Andre Ethier and closer Jonathan Broxton.
"It was great, he was excited, he is excited I should say," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "And between the time we met yesterday and now, the two guys we talked about [Kuo and Furcal] are on the All-Star team, and the real great news is they're both tickled to think about it."
Combined with Broxton, Kuo has helped to form the most dominant back-end duo in baseball this season. The left-handed setup man's 1.03 ERA entering Sunday led all NL relievers who had thrown at least 25 innings. He's 3-1 with two saves and a strikeout-to-walk ratio close to 5-to-1 in 25 appearances. Eighty percent of the time, he has retired the first batter he's faced, and opponents are hitting .129 off him with runners on base.
Perhaps most impressive of all, left-handed hitters are hitless against Kuo in 30 at-bats.
"Kuo, he's a remarkable medical miracle, I guess you could say," Torre said. "And I guess that's before I laid eyes on him with the surgeries he's had. He's gone through a lot of hills and valleys but his strength is from within for me, aside from his fastball."
The success wouldn't be there without five to six hours of daily treatment and four elbow surgeries. Turning 29 this month, Kuo has taken a day-at-a-time approach -- not because it's a cliché, but because that's the most confidence he can have in his body.
"He starts at about 12:30 every day for a 7 o'clock game and he'll work all the way up till game time," Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said. "And even if you sneak into the weight room fourth or fifth inning he's doing some stuff then. Kuo and I say all the time, just one more day.
"There have been so many ups and downs in regards to his medical situation and how hard he's worked, and I think everyone who's followed a team on an everyday basis knows just how tough it is to go out there and pitch every day in 2010, when in 2007 we didn't think he was going to make it through, when in 2008 we didn't think he was going to make it through, when in 2009 we didn't think he was going to make it through."
Conte said he notified the All-Star Game's trainers of Kuo's routine, but Kuo knows it well. Conte will not be at the game.
Furcal, too, represents a victory for Conte's staff. The shortstop has worked through back surgeries, a hamstring injury this year and other problems in his career to lead the league in average at .333 entering Sunday -- if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
"The guys that we work with in rehab, we really like it when they do well and contribute back to the team and turn back to who they are," Conte said.
It wasn't only injury-related for Kuo, though. He battled the mental side of the game, throwing warmup pitches in the bullpen onto the Dodger Stadium field just last season.
Kuo wasn't sure what to make of his caller ID screen when Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti called him to break the news on Sunday.
"I was like, 'Well, why is Ned calling me?'" Kuo said. "Something's going on ...
"I never thought about it. It's nice, it's nice to be at the All-Star Game."
As for the honor of being the first Taiwan-born player, Kuo said only: "I won't be the last."
Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.