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Dodgers' Hong-Chih Kuo and the middle reliever's plight: deserving but unlikely All-Star

June 29, 2010 |  2:45 pm
The drums beat, the hands clap, the heads nod. As campaigns go, how can you not be on board?

Hong-Chih Kuo for National League All-Star.

He is unquestionably deserving. He has sentiment going for him. It has all the elements of a great story except … it’s highly unlikely to happen.

Some of Kuo’s numbers are truly astounding, but the problem is they have come almost exclusively as a middle reliever. And middle relievers rarely get an All-Star invite.

"Kuo would be the one nobody pays attention to," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said.

Kuo is 2-1 with two saves and a 1.11 earned-run average. Very nice numbers, but they only begin to tell the story.

He has a stunning 0.74 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched). In 24 1/3 innings, he has struck out 30 and walked eight.

There's more: Opponents are batting .120 against him, the lowest for any NL reliever. And he has yet to allow a hit to a left-handed hitter (0 for 26, 12 strikeouts).

And I repeat: He's a middle reliever.

Said Torre: "As Ernie Johnson Sr. used to say when he was the middle relief guy for the Milwaukee Braves, 'We’re the loneliest guys in the world. We always shower alone, we don't start the game and we don't finish the game.' "

All-Star staffs typically are the domain of starters and closers. Which offers another problem in Kuo's campaign: If a reliever is taken from the Dodgers' staff, it figures to be closer Jonathan Broxton.

Another obstacle: This campaign received a belated start. All-Star ballots from players and managers were filled out last weekend.

Kuo said he hasn't been concerned about the All-Star game.

"I haven't thought about that," Kuo said. "I worry about tomorrow."

When you've been through four elbow operations, your focus does tend to be on the immediate. Which is why it would be so gratifying for his supporters to see him earn All-Star recognition. How many pitchers have been through so much, kept at it and still been so remarkably effective?

Kuo, 28, knows he is as locked in right now as he has ever been. He also knows that everything could change with the release of one pitch.

"I appreciate everything," he said. "I appreciate my teammates. The Dodgers. They give me a lot of time to do rehab, and wait for me.

"I don't worry about anything. I just try to stay healthy and, if I can, keep pitching."

It would be great if he could pitch in Anaheim on July 13, but it would take some unexpected dominoes to fall before he is named an All-Star.

"What he’s done this year, he may not have another first half like this where he gets any first-half recognition," Torre said. "I favor guys who haven't been on the club before, because it's a great experience to be an All-Star."

-- Steve Dilbeck
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