Wunsch Standing Tall Once Again

VERO BEACH, Fla.- Kelly Wunsch was in the bullpen when it happened. His sidearm pitching style often makes him appear like a guy toppling from a tree anyhow only this time, "I threw a pitch and, wham, down I went. (Then bullpen coach Jon ) Debus came running up and asked what happened and I said, 'I think I just popped my ankle. Let's see. So, I tried to throw another pitch and went over again. Another time, same thing. Then I tried a curve but couldn't do it."

So, instead of getting into the game it was onto the disabled list and eventually surgery to repair the torn ligaments in the ankle for Wunsch who had to wonder just how much misfortune could hound him. While in the minors, he missed all of the 1996 season because of muscular problems. Coming back from that he rose to the White Sox as an effective reliever only to have a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala, the East's version of Dr. Frank Jobe, repaired that in 2001 but it was on and off the DL, in and out of rehab for Kelly until the Sox let him go to free agency after the 2004 season. He signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers for an invitation to spring training, showed good stuff again and won the lefty relief job. Then, this latest bout of misery.

After the season, the Dodgers also let him become a free agent but informed him that they'd be glad to give him another shot. So, deja vu, here he is, on a minor league deal but in camp trying to reclaim that lefty slot in the 'pen once more. And he looks like the favorite for the role.

Why not? He certainly has a track record. At the time he went out, he had already appeared in 45 games in which left-handed hitters were batting a measly .194 against him. And that figure was slightly higher than his major league mark which was .183 over five seasons.

He can work a lot, too. He set a White Sox rookie record when he appeared in 83 games in 2000. That's when he's healthy, of course, which he says he is once again. He certainly appeared that way when they used him as a closer in Thursday's opening Grapefruit League game against the Braves. He allowed only a harmless single (to a righthanded hitter, let it be noted) and came away with a save.

Not that saving games in a Wunsch specialty. No, he has only one in 257 major league appearances. Rather, he's a Picasso in guys that swing from the left side as noted .

He's also a waggish sort. While at Stockton in the California League, he proposed while wearing the team mascot's guise. He's also bright and articulate, majoring in mechanical engineering at Texas A & M. All in all, a good guy to have in the clubhouse.

Maybe an even better guy at getting that crucial out with a game on the line. If he can stand up and throw those wicked pitches the way he did Thursday, chances are that he'll be a Dodger once more. He seems due some good luck for a change.

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