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Hong-Chih Kuo to be used like regular reliever; now to get back to the regular Kuo

May 8, 2011 | 10:43 am

Lkt1afnc Hong-Chih Kuo, regular guy. Anyway, regular relief pitcher?

That should be a good thing and, if based upon last season, an absolutely great thing.

Only Don Mattingly’s declaration prior to Sunday’s game that he was going to treat Kuo and his keep-those-fingers-crossed elbow the same as any other reliever currently comes with an unforced pause.

Because, thus far into 2011, Kuo has hardly resembled the All-Star left-hander who was so stunningly effective last season (1.20 ERA, 0.78 WHIP).

It is, as we are so fond of saying, a small sample size. Still, a disturbing sample size. He’s appeared in eight games, throwing 4 2/3 innings, but hasn’t been sharp (9.64, 1.93).

Kuo went on the disabled list last month not because his elbow -- operated on four times -- was acting up, but his back.

Now he’s returned and is still struggling to find his command. The word "yips" has been whispered, one he became familiar with back in 2009.

He looked like he was fighting something that was less than mechanical Saturday when he fielded a sacrifice bunt and sailed his throw well over the head of 6-foot-2 James Loney.

Kuo was pitching on consecutive days, something Joe Torre tried to avoid last year, which made Kuo's  later role as a closer tricky business.

But on Sunday, Mattingly said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Kuo on back-to-back days and would treat him like anyone else.

Trouble is, at the moment, he’s pitching like everyone else in the bullpen (5.28 ERA). Kuo righted himself last time he was in one of these funks, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t again. And apparently, he’ll have plenty of opportunity.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo. Credit: Anthony Gruppuso / US Presswire