Kuo Says He's Drug-Free and Ready

VERO BEACH, Fla- Hong-Chih Kuo is in a defensive mood these days and he'd like to clear up a couple of matters. In the first place, he insists that business about his supposed ingesting of a banned substance is much ado about , well, very little, anyway. Oh, and another thing, he says that theory about his inability to warm up properly in a relief role isn't accurate, either.

The story about Kuo's alleged use of ephedra, a substance now illegal for professional baseball players, was broken in the China Times which said he and two others on the Taiwanese team were investigated for its use during the Asian Games , which were held in Dubai in January. The players in question say, if they did, it was contained in a cold remedy which they took.

That's usually excuse No. 2 offered by players who have been charged with the offense- that it was is something they had used innocently without knowledge of the contents. Excuse No. 1 is they didn't take it at all.

In this case, though, it seems to have been the case. At least, that's what officials of those games feel for they cleared Kuo and the others of wrongdoing. That's what the Dodgers believe, too.

And while major league baseball has dutifully launched an investigation, they don't seem inclined to make much of the issue. Anyway, they didn't have jurisdiction over those games in any case so it's difficult to see how they could impose any punishment even if they did find some evidence of its use.

The question about Kuo arose because he was slated to pitch the title game but begged off. That was, he says, because his arm was sore . If so, that would be of concern to the Dodgers who have been very leery of his oft-repaired left elbow.

So far, this spring , though, Kuo's had no difficulty and that brings us to his second observation. Last year the difference between his performances out of the bullpen as opposed to starting were stark.

Both with L.A. and down at Las Vegas, he had a tendency to get into trouble due to wildness when he was used in relief. Finally, almost in desperation, he was thrust back into the rotation and immediately gained command of his pitches.

That, the official word is, because that elbow, repaired oh, so many times, doesn't get to warm up enough when he's used in relief. As a starter, he can pace himself better , warm up longer and thus throw much better.

Kuo, though, while admitting there's a difference, says he can and does warm up enough in the pen. He says the problem occurs because, " I get too excited and don't have time to calm down." That sets off a change of events- too much adrenaline leads to overthrowing which leads to too many pitches out of the zone which leads to too many walks which is trouble, my friends, with a capital T which rhymes with -oh, you get the idea.

That bullpen dilemma might never occur , though, if he wins the battle royale going on for the fifth starter's job. Chad Billingsley has just been eliminated, being told he'll go to the pen at the start of the season but Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson are very much in contention as is non-roster possibility Joe Mays.

Kuo's been throwing well although his velocity seems down a bit and he may hold a slight lead in the derby. However, he's being used out of the pen for the most part and he has been walking a few people. It hasn't hurt him yet for he's been able to wiggle out of serious trouble but it could cause them have continued reluctance to use him in relief.

He's a lefthander , which would give the starting staff a bit more balance for he would join Randy Wolf, who throws from that side, while the other locked-in starters, Derrick Lowe, Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny all throw with their right arms.

Whatever they decide, Kuo thinks he's more than ready to stay in the big leagues and if that means pitching in relief, he insists he can be effective doing that. And that he doesn't ingest strange substances to do it. Any questions?

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