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Is it too early to be concerned about Hong-Chih Kuo?

May 2, 2011 |  6:14 am

Liyh7bnc Hmm, when do you start to worry?

Hong-Chih Kuo has appeared in five games this season. As sample sizes go, it’s barely a blip.

So, really, no one should get carried away with the hand-wringing. Still, it's May and there is no sign Kuo is close to resembling the lights-out reliever he was last season.

He just came off the disabled list Sunday, so it's easy to write off his performance -- one-third of an inning, four runs on two hits, a walk and a hit batter.

His control was off, his velocity down, his results unrecognizable as coming from the guy who last season fashioned a 1.20 earned-run average and walked 18 batters in 60 innings.

Now he has an unsightly 15.00 ERA and has walked five in three innings.

"I'm not perfect," Kuo said.

True, he spoiled us last season. He was nearly unhittable. Left-handed batters hit .095 against him. He threw like some gift from the baseball gods.

But this season, even before his ugly return Sunday, he had seldom resembled that dominant reliever of 2010. He did look a lot like the reliever who in 2009 had a bad case of the "yips," a sudden case of unexplained wildness where the ball could go most anywhere.

When Kuo went on the disabled list April 16 because of a back strain,’s Ken Gurnick wrote that the team was concerned that Kuo also had a relapse of the yips.

Kuo said Sunday that his back is fine, so you have to wonder. Mechanical? Mental?

"I don't know," Kuo said. "I really don't know. When you struggle, you can say anything is wrong."

Like: He's wild and not throwing as hard.

"We have to see where we go from here," Manager Don Mattingly said. "Obviously we're not seeing the same velocity. You see it 93 [mph] here and there, but mostly more 90 and in that area, and it hasn't been in the past.

"I'm not exactly quite sure what it is."

When the yips surfaced in 2009, Kuo spent three months rehabbing in the minors before getting his confidence back and returning to the majors.

If closer Jonathan Broxton falters any more (4.76 ERA. .306 opponent batting average), it was assumed that Kuo would be next up as the Dodgers' closer, as he was last season when he saved 12 games.

Right now, however, the Dodgers are a long way from trusting Kuo. And, just maybe, plenty worried.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Hong-Chih Kuo #56 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch against the San Francisco Giants in the eighth inning on March 31, 2011 in L.A. Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images