Kuo, Hu set for homecoming in Taiwan

Kuo, Hu set for homecoming in Taiwan

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers write another chapter in their international journal Wednesday when they leave for a three-game friendship series in Taiwan against an All-Star team from the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

The marquee player on this year's travel squad is outfielder Manny Ramirez, who added his name a week ago, reportedly when endorsement deals materialized.

"He'll keep me company," manager Joe Torre said.

Rivaling Ramirez for local attention will be the two native Taiwanese on the 40-man roster -- reliever Hong-Chih Kuo and infielder Chin-lung Hu.

Kuo, in fact, is being considered to start the finale of the series after the late scratch of Charlie Haeger, who was originally named the Sunday starter but injured his hip pitching in Tuesday's exhibition game.

Kuo was the first high school player from Taiwan to sign with a Major League team, later overcoming two Tommy John elbow reconstructions to become one of the most effective left-handed setup relievers in the game. In 2002, the Dodgers became the first team with two players on their Major League roster from Taiwan -- Kuo and Chin-Feng Chen, who beat Kuo to the big leagues and is expected to play for the CPBL All-Stars against the Dodgers. Hu is a defensive-oriented shortstop still trying to develop enough offense to stick as a Major Leaguer.

Other players from the Major League roster making the trip are infielders James Loney, Jamey Carroll, Ronnie Belliard and Russell Mitchell; outfielders Xavier Paul and Trayvon Robinson; pitchers Eric Stults, Jon Link and Kenley Jansen; and catcher Lucas May. Haeger was replaced on the travel squad by non-roster reliever Scott Dohmann.

The first two games will be played at Tien Mou Stadium in Taipei. Manager Joe Torre announced that Stults will start Friday night (2:37 a.m. PT Friday) and Josh Towers will start Saturday (10:07 p.m. PT Friday). A replacement for Haeger has not yet been named to start Sunday at Kaohsiung County Stadium in the southern part of the island nation (10:07 p.m. PT Saturday). The club will fly back to Arizona immediately after the game with an expected arrival of 6 p.m. MT. There is rain in the forecast for Saturday.

The Dodgers were the first Major League club to visit Taiwan after the 1993 season for a similar series against the CPBL All-Stars. Among the players on that trip were Orel Hershiser, Ramon and Pedro Martinez, Eric Karros, Raul Mondesi and Mike Piazza.

Stults is among the contenders for the fifth-starter job, while Towers is a former 13-game winner in the big leagues who became more interesting when he pitched two impressive innings Monday.

Kuo -- who pitched a perfect inning Tuesday with two strikeouts -- is expected to pitch only one inning in Sunday's game, which will be played not far from Tainan City, hometown of Kuo and Hu.

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The 15-hour charter flight to Taipei leaves Phoenix at 11 a.m. Wednesday and arrives at 5 p.m. Thursday. Before Friday's game, Kuo, Hu, Triple-A manager Tim Wallach and Triple-A pitching coach Jim Slaton will host a clinic for a group of Taiwanese youth at Tien Mou Stadium.

Saturday at 9 a.m. Taiwan time, Stults and Carroll are scheduled to sign autographs at the MLB Clubhouse Shop in Taipei. Before Saturday's game, Torre will host a private leadership seminar at the stadium. He will be joined by Taiwanese baseball commentator Dean Yuan and will speak about his career and answer questions for a group of Taiwanese VIPs and baseball professionals.

This is the second time in three springs that Torre takes a split squad overseas, having led a two-game expedition to China against the Padres in spring 2008, his first with the Dodgers. Six players that made the China trip are also on this one -- Kuo, Hu, Stults, May, Paul and John Lindsey.

Torre downplayed the disruption this trip will cause to his team's preparations for the regular season, especially compared to the '08 trip to China when the Dodgers bid farewell to Vero Beach, Fla., and returned to conclude Spring Training in Arizona, borrowing fields from other clubs for eight days.

Hitting coach Don Mattingly, the presumed manager-in-training, will run the split squad that remains for Cactus League games, and the rest of the Major League coaching staff will stay with him. Torre's Taiwan staff consists of Wallach, Slaton, Minor League coaches John Shoemaker and Lorenzo Bundy and bullpen catcher Mike Borzello.

"I'm not really concerned," said Torre. "Donnie will have the full complement of coaches. I'm exploring more of the world."

While the short-term impact of such trips is debatable, it's hard to dispute the long-term benefit of the Dodgers' progressive international initiatives. Late owner Walter O'Malley is credited with providing the impetus with a 1956 trip to Japan and the tradition has been continued, first by his son and successor Peter O'Malley, now by current owner Frank McCourt.

The Brooklyn Dodgers first visited Japan in 1956 and the ultimate payoff was the 1995 signing of Hideo Nomo, which opened the door to dozens of Japanese stars that have followed. One year before the Nomo signing, the Dodgers landed Chan Ho Park, the first Major Leaguer from Korea. In 1998, the Dodgers opened an Asian office and have established working agreements with clubs in Japan and Korea.

In addition to the 1956 trip to Japan and the 1993 trip to Japan and Taiwan, the Dodgers toured Japan in 1966. Los Angeles has also played exhibition games in Puerto Rico (1988) and Mexico, competing in both Monterrey (1991) and Mexico City (1964 and 2003). The team held its Spring Training in Havana, Cuba, in 1941-42 and Ciudad Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in 1948.

The Dodgers' history in Taiwan also includes a working relationship with the Sinon Bulls of the CPBL in the 1990s, which led to that club training at the Dodgers' Campo Las Palmas facility in the Dominican Republic. Several Taiwanese national teams later trained at Dodgertown in Vero Beach.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.