Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, who has a long history of arm issues, has been scratched from an upcoming five-game exhibition series in his native Taiwan after experiencing discomfort in his left elbow on Monday. He is scheduled to meet with team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Wednesday morning to determine the cause of the soreness and the severity of the injury, but Dodgers medical services director Stan Conte said he made the decision to hold Kuo out of the Taiwan series as a precaution.
Kuo was to pitch for Taiwan against a select team of major leaguers. He had been throwing in Los Angeles for four weeks -- not at Dodger Stadium and not under team supervision -- in preparation for that exhibition series.
"He was ramping back up and doing fine, but he felt pain in his elbow," Conte said. "He called me ... I thought it over, and with his history of elbow problems, we wanted to be sure. He didn't sound real confident that his elbow is OK throwing (in Taiwan), so we decided not to send him there."
Kuo, 30, has been on the disabled list six times in seven big league seasons, three of them with elbow injuries, and has undergone elbow surgery four times in his professional career, including two Tommy John reconstructions before he ever got to the majors. He also missed six weeks in 2011 while battling a mild case of the yips on the mound. Even after returning in June, Kuo still battled intermittent control problems for the rest of the year.
"I thought it would be better for him to see Dr. ElAttrache because of his history," Conte said. "It wasn't anything (specific) he was telling me, but just the fact he called me and was concerned was enough for me."
Conte said it was impossible to speculate on the severity of the situation, but Alan Chang, Kuo's Chicago-based agent, said the fact Kuo had been pitching without pain for four weeks was a reason for optimism.
"We don't want to prematurely make any evaluation on what this is until after the doctor looks at it and makes his recommendation," Chang said. "But it doesn't sound really serious. The Dodgers have been very protective of Kuo."
Kuo, who clearly was frustrated toward the end of a season in which he pitched just 27 innings and walked 23 batters, hinted to a reporter for the Dodgers' website in September that he might retire. But Chang said earlier this week that Kuo, who was a National League All-Star in 2010, has no intention of doing so and remains committed to pitching in 2012.
Where Kuo will pitch in 2012 is another matter. This is his final winter of arbitration-eligibility, but the Dodgers are highly unlikely to go that route with him because he made $2.725 million in 2011 and would get at least a moderate raise despite posting a 9.00 ERA and appearing in only 40 games. That means the team is almost certain to non-tender Kuo, making him a free agent a year ahead of schedule, then attempt to re-sign him at a lower salary.
Even if Kuo's latest elbow injury doesn't prove to be severe, he won't be able to pitch in that series in his homeland, which is scheduled for Nov. 1-6.
"He was very disappointed," Chang said. "He was looking forward to pitching in front of his hometown fans. There are 23 million people in Taiwan, and they are all big baseball fans. He was very excited to go back there and pitch. But this is something he has dealt with before, this type of setback, and you can only control your response to things that come up."
Todd Tomczyk, the Dodgers assistant trainer for the past five seasons, has been named head trainer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Conte said an announcement will come early next week as to the Dodgers' plan to replace Tomczyk, who is a Pittsburgh native and earned his bachelor's in sports medicine at Duquesne University.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.