What Path Will Tsao Follow Ainsworth or Kuo?

  VERO BEACH, Fla.- The obvious player to compare Chin-Hui Tsao to is Hong-Chih Kuo as their careers certainly do mirror each other to a large extent. Both came out of Taiwan at the same time as teen-age pitching sensations who received huge contracts only to have arm injuries blight their progress. The path the Dodgers fervently hope that Tsao doesn't follow is that of Kurt Ainsworth.

    Just like Ainsworth, Tsao at one time was at one time considered the best prospect in his organization- Ainsworth with the Giants, Tsao with the Rockies. And both had to undergo shoulder surgery after which they endured a year of rehab. In each case, the the Dodgers then picked them up with the thought that if he would come back to something like his earlier promise, they'd have a coup.

  Last year it was Ainsworth who came to Dodgertown, saying he was on the road to wellsville and that he was ready to take the mound again. But he never did for he had further shoulder problems in spring training, underwent the knife again and back to rehab.

However, Kurt never did show enough progress after the second surgery to warrant re-signing so was let go to free agency and quite possibly pitching oblivion.

So, here's Tsao, this year's reclamation project. The Rockies didn't like his chances after he rehabbed all of 2006 so released him.  The Dodgers worked him out and saw enough to sign him to a major league deal. (Ainsworth had been here on a minor league contract.)

  There were other teams interested in Tsao although when asked how many, the pitcher himself couldn't say. That, I guess, was his agent's business. He chose the Dodgers, he says, because he likes the city of Los Angeles.

  And he wouldn't offer an opinion on just what percentage of his old self he has reclaimed. But he has outdone Ainsworth already in one important aspect.

Kurt never got to the mound for the Dodgers at all while Tsao pitched an inning in the first exhibition, displaying a lively fast ball in the process.

  Pre-injury he could bring it plateward in the mid-to-upper 90's with regularity. Colorado had tabbed him its future closer before the operation; his role with the Dodgers will be determined. 

They have no particular need of a closer, either present or future with Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton on the premises and he himself expresses no particular preference for either starting or relief.

He comes with caution signs posted though for shoulder injuries are the most troublesome for pitchers to return from, particularly torn labrum cuffs.

And that's what he had. Kuo's problems were in his elbow and it took him seemingly eons to get back to something like normal. Greg Miller finally seems healthy again after his shoulder woes and that process has taken three years.

  Like Ainsworth, Tsao's righthanded; Kuo and Miller throw with their left arms. It doesn't matter which side you throw from though; fickle fate doesn't discriminate when it comes to arm problems. It hands them out to all.

At age 25,  Tsao has 20 games of major league experience and does have an option year remaining if he gets sent out.

Of course, there's always the rehab assignment route as well so it's likely that he'll have to go back to the minors to prove that he's truly healthy.

   His upside is such that if he can emulate Kuo and return and not Ainsworth and retreat, the Dodgers could have another pitcher of considerable note. The risk, they feel, is well worth taking.

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