Kuo Says He's "Ready" to Return

Hong-Chih Kuo admits he's not sure how this latest round of anxiety started. He's not sure if this was tougher than overcoming the mental yips two years ago. He's not positive if it ever went away. Or whether it will return again. But he knows this: "I'm ready. The team has treated me good, and I've taken my time and I think I'm ready."

Kuo made the declaration in the Dodgers' clubhouse before Friday's 7-3 loss to the Astros. He's made four rehab appearances in the minors, including back-to-back outings on Wednesday and Thursday. The Dodgers' tentative plan is to give him two days to rest then activate him before Sunday's game.

Kenley Jansen is expected to return from the disabled list on Saturday, so the Dodgers' bullpen is getting closer to full strength. Jonathan Broxton will start his rehab soon, meaning he's 1-2 weeks from a return too.

In Kuo's last rehab outing, the Dodgers were hoping for as high-pressure a situation as possible. They got just that, as Kuo entered the game with the bases loaded and one out. Kuo struck out both hitters. When asked if there will be any restrictions on Kuo, manager Don Mattingly said, "Not really."

When asked if Kuo would become his closer, Mattingly said, "It's possible."

If so, it would be the latest step in the remarkable career of Kuo. He's overcome four elbow surgeries, including two Tommy John re-constructive, and overcame the yips two seasons ago.

Last year, the lefty became the first Taiwan-born player to appear in the All-Star Game, didn't allow a hit to a left-handed hitter at the break, and finished with the lowest ERA in Dodgers history.

But on May 10, Kuo needed a break. He'd been wild this year. His velocity was down, the result of being afraid to completely let the ball go, not knowing where it might go. The pressure of living up to expectations back home in Taiwan is a factor.

Known for a dry sense of humor, Kuo showed it after his first rehab assignment. When asked if he talked to any former players who dealt with this, Kuo said, "Yeah, I talked to myself."

Kuo did speak to a handful of counselors about his issues over the last six weeks.

"I have some issues," Kuo admitted. "Everybody has issues. I'm OK right now. I'm ready. I'm more excited than nervous, and that's a good sign."

It's been a season of hit and miss for Ethier
When assessing what's wrong with the Dodgers, it's like drawing a card from a deck of 52 cards. What card, or player, do you want to focus on today?

There's been problems with the offense for most of the year, problems with the rotation this month, off-and-on problems with the bullpen, and occasional problems with the defense.

One position the Dodgers didn't expect to be a problem is right field. And really, even though Andre Ethier is hitting .313/.391/.442 this year, owner of a 30-game hitting streak, and fourth in voting among National League outfielders, he hasn't provided the production the Dodgers were expecting.

Especially lately.

Ethier doubled off the left-center wall in the first inning Wednesday and was hit by a pitch, but had three feeble at-bats the rest of the game. He's 3-for-25 over the last six games.

The biggest concern, however, is the lack of power. His last home run came on May 27.

Ethier averaged a home run every 19.2 at-bats in 2009, when he was a Silver Slugger winner. That number dropped to every 22.5 at-bats last year. This year, with five home runs in 245 at-bats, he's averaging a home run once every 49.0 at-bats.

Any time Ethier goes through a slump, or a power outage, it's not hard to tell because Ethier wears his emotions on his sleeve. He throws helmets. He smashes bats. Sometimes, that helps him get over an at-bat quicker. Other times, that leads to longer slumps.

"He does battle himself, I will say," manager Don Mattingly said. "Andre is a guy who gets frustrated. You're saying he gets down on himself. I hope not, because he's got so much talent and such a great swing you want him to keep fighting. This game is such a confidence thing.

"You talk about hot steaks, (hitters) feel good and things get rolling.

If you let it go the other way, that's when you have to keep fighting. I do think it is hard for him because he does fight himself."

When Ethier's hitting streak ended on May 7, he was batting .367, and Ethier freely admitted that he needed to get back to driving the ball.

He's subsequently said that he was overly focused on the hitting streak, to the point that he believes it might have messed up his natural swing.

The day after the hitting streak ended, he hit a homer run. Then it was 17 games until his next home run. Now he's 18 games and counting without one.

A look at Ethier's advanced statistics reveal a few interesting notes: --He is walking 11.1 percent of the time, his highest since his 2006 season of 13.6 percent. You wouldn't expect that many walks, since he's hitting in front of Triple Crown candidate Matt Kemp.

--He's striking out 20.4 percent of the time, barely above last year's career-high 19.7 percent ratio.

--He's seeing the fewest fastballs of his career, 53.4 percent, compared to 56.8 percent last year and 62.8 percent in 2008. That's a sign opposing teams believe they can get him out with off-speed stuff.

--He's missing more strikes. He's swung and missed at 9.2 percent of the strikes thrown to him this season. That's above the 8.5 last year, 7.5 percent in 2009 and 6.2 percent from 2008. That means he's missing more hittable pitches.

In the grand scheme of things, Ethier is one of the few bright spots to the Dodgers' problems. He's their second-best hitter, behind Kemp, and opposing managers plan their bullpen strategy around Ethier in most games.

But while more production is clearly and obviously needed in left field, first base and third base, the Dodgers no doubt need to see Ethier hitting for more power once again as well.

NOTES, QUOTES
--LHP Ted Lilly, in his 300th career start, allowed six runs (five earned) and 10 baserunners against the Astros. The biggest hit was a two-run bloop double to right by Clint Barmes. The loss was the Dodgers' fourth straight, dropping them nine games under .500 for the first time this year.

--RF Andre Ethier hit a two-run homer in the ninth that didn't impact the game, but is a good sign for him individually. It was Ethier's first home run since May 27 and his sixth of the season.

--RHP Kenley Jansen's scheduled rehab appearance for Class AA Chattanooga was postponed for a day by rain, but he threw a scoreless inning Thursday. It's not clear how the one-day delay will impact Jansen's activation from the disabled list, which was tentatively scheduled for Friday. Jansen has been out since late May due to right shoulder inflammation.

--LHP Hong-Chih Kuo pitched a scoreless inning for Class AAA Albuquerque on Wednesday as he gets closer to returning from an anxiety disorder. The inning started with an error by first baseman John Lindsay. After a sacrifice bunt, Kuo walked a batter, struck out a batter and ended the inning with a groundout.

--LHP Ted Lilly, who starts Friday for the Dodgers against the Astros, isn't on a strict pitch count. But based on comments by manager Don Mattingly recently, his leash gets shorter once he reaches about 90 pitches and the lineup turns over for a third time. Lilly has been allowed to exceed 90 pitches only five times in 14 starts. Lilly takes a 3.98 ERA into the start, his lowest ERA going into any start this year.

--3B Casey Blake hopes to return to the starting lineup on Friday, after missing four games because of a pinched nerve in his neck. If he doesn't, Aaron Miles is more likely to get the start than Jamey Carroll, because Miles is 5-for-13 against Brett Myers, while Carroll is 1-for-9.

--INF Juan Uribe is 7-for-30 (.233) since coming off the disabled list, actually raising his average ever so slightly. Uribe has two doubles, no home runs, three walks and eight strikeouts in that time. Uribe is sporting a very bright blonde hairdo and a new walk-up music song. Uribe was repeatedly singing Rihanna's "What's My Name?" to center fielder Matt Kemp, who dated the pop star last year, during the team's recent trip to Colorado. Judging by the huge smile on Kemp's face when the song made its debut Friday, and Uribe looking back into the dugout in surprise, Kemp had something to do with the new song.

--RHP Vicente Padilla underwent surgery on his neck Thursday and will wear a collar around the neck for about two weeks. While the Dodgers didn't declare Padilla is definitely out for the season, that is likely.

--RHP Jon Garland, who will miss his third start Saturday, won't be returning very soon. Garland was scheduled to see the Dodgers' lead doctor on Friday. The team is hoping to get a better read on how serious the shoulder inflammation is, and when can begin his rehab.

--Lorenzo Bundy, the Dodgers' manager at Class AAA Albuquerque, will skipper the Pacific Coast League squad in the 2011 Class AAA All-Star Game on July 13 in Salt Lake City. Bundy's Isotopes, despite not having many prospects, went into Friday with a 38-29 record that was the best in the American Southern Division.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Number of years ago when the Dodgers were last eight games under .500 for the season. The Dodgers go into Friday's game with a 31-39 record. The last time they were eight under was July 26, 2006. They responded by immediately winning 11 consecutive games and 17 of 18, rallying to win a weak NL West.

BY THE NUMBERS II: 43 -- number of times the Dodgers have gone first-to-third on a single this season. That's what their SoCal rivals, the Angels, are known for doing. But the Dodgers are the best in the National League, and second-best in the majors at doing it.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It really doesn't. It shouldn't have an effect. If it does, it's really an excuse. It's useless to say it because lots of things are going on in everybody's life, from kids, or this and that. There's lots of things they have to put behind them when they get here, and still deal with that later in the night or the next day. But for that short period of time they are here, they're focused on their job and doing well." -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, on the impact of the settlement between Frank and Jamie McCourt. The deal struck by lawyers Friday is contingent on Commissioner Bud Selig approving a new TV contract with Fox, which most industry insiders believe won't occur.

QUOTE TO NOTE: II
"We can't wait, we've got to do it now. There's no pressure. It just has to happen." -- CF Matt Kemp, on the Dodgers' place in the standings and the urgency to turn things around if the team is to reach the playoffs this year.

*M*A*S*H* 4077 MEDICAL WATCH:
--3B Casey Blake (pinched nerve in neck) did not start June 11-17, but he pinch-hit five times. He's day-to-day.

--SS Rafael Furcal (strained left oblique muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list June 4.

--RHP Jon Garland (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 2. He was scheduled to see the Dodgers' lead doctor on June 17. The team is hoping to get a better read on how serious the shoulder inflammation is, and when he can begin his rehab.

--RHP Kenley Jansen (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list May 29. He began a rehab assignment with Class AA Chattanooga on June 9, and he could be activated during the weekend of June 17-19.

--RHP Vicente Padilla (right radial nerve irritation) went on the 15-day disabled list May 14. He began a rehab assignment with Class A Rancho Cucamonga on May 29, but was shut down in early June due to a neck ailment. He underwent neck surgery June 16, and he will likely miss the rest of the season.

--RHP Jonathan Broxton (bone bruise on right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 4. He threw a bullpen session June 7. The Dodgers hope he'll return by July 1.

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