Kuo and Stults Give Hopes to Others

As the Dodgers bask in the glow of the accomplishments of Hong-Chi Kuo and Eric Stults this past week in New York,some observers have gone to the record books to draw a parallel. Why, if you're truly steeped in Dodger lore you might even hearken back to September 1954 and Karl Spooner.

Ah, Karl Spooner. Have you been around long enough to remember him ? Well, all he did was come up from the minors that fall and in his first start, not only threw a three-hit shutout, he struck out 15 in the process. Wait a minute ! There's more for in his next start, on the season's final day, he again shut them down, this time on four hits while notching 12 K's.

There hasn't been anything quite like that until Fernando came up in 1980 for some dazzling innings but he did his in relief. We all know that for him it was only the start of something big but for Spooner?

Alas, he came down with a sore arm the very next spring and never really did pitch effectively after that. They tried every remedy they knew of but when it came to pitchers' arm problems, medicine wasa little advanced beyond the witch doctor stage then. So desperate were they that they even pulled all his teeth to no avail.

What makes the accomplishments of Kuo and Stults even more pleasing is that both are card-carrying members of the Tommy John surgery recovery club so their dramatic performances had to bring a ray of hope to all those who are also fighting their way through the recovery stages.

It is not an easy endeavor for any of them. Kuo suffered his injury in his first professional start back in 2000 and it was five long years before he could throw consistently again. It was a time when a good many coaches and team brass gave up on him and even Kup himself often told teammmates he was going back to Taiwan. But the physical therapists and coach Rick Honeycutt were the soles of paitience and diiligence and he finally recaptured what had been before.

Stults had come into the system as n obscure 15th-round draft pick in 2002 but showed so much, so soon they ne went from rookie ball to Jacksonville in one summer. The next though saw his arm problems emerge, the operation ensued and he, too, had to work his way back.

The first year always seems to be the hardest and there are four strung from Las Vegas to Ogden who were working to emulate Kuo and Stults this past season. Greg Miller made it to Vegas and can hit 95 mph once more but his control was so erratic that he was passed over for a September call-up. He's trying to recover from shoulder surgery which is usually more serious than the elbow problems that the Tommy John procedure is designed to cure.

Both Ryan Ketchner and Mike Megrew pitched well enough to be encouraging at Vero Beach while Jesus Castillo and Javy Guerra did the same at Ogden. Justin Orenduff was hurt this season so will start his journey back next year. But never believe that all it takes is diligence for some never do come completely back.

Jonathan Figueroa, who, like Miller, has had shoulder repair work, seldom hits 85 on the gun these days and looks nothing like he did when he was the rising star a few short seasons ago. And remember Marshall Looney and Steve Nelson? They were full of promise once but neither recovered well from surgery and both were released.

And it isn't confined to the Dodger system either. Both Chuck Tiffany and Blake Johnson who were traded away had to be shut down by their organizations when they suffered injuries.

The road to the big leagues is strewn with the bodies of those whose once bright chances were blighted by injuries including former Dodger first-rounders like Dan Opperman (1987) and Ronnie Walden (1990).

And then there was the time back in 1983 when the Dodgers had the 18th pick in the draft and had to make up their minds between two college pitchers- a lefty and a righthander. They got a chance to see the two oppose each other in a game that affirmed their belief that the lefty was the way to go so they took Erik Sonberg.

He, too, was an arm injury victim and never worked out. How about the righthander? Oh, the Red Sox took him with the very next selection an No. 19. Pitcher named Roger Clemens.

It would be too much to wish that any of those now employed by the Dodgers out to be another Clemens. Right now the Dodgers hope that Kuo and Stults can turned out to be more like Valenzuela than Karl Spooner.

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