Mariners hope two new relief pitchers are on target
Hong-Chih Kuo has battled anxiety in the past
Seattle Times staff reporter
One of two new relief pitchers signed Monday by the Mariners carries a tattoo on the inside of his right forearm reading, "For me to believe in myself."
The man who taught those words to Hong-Chih Kuo had died only two months before the left-handed relief pitcher got the tattoo last May. Renowned sports psychologist Dr. Harvey Dorfman, up to his death last year due to unspecified causes, had spent two years teaching Kuo, 30, to believe in himself as he struggled with an anxiety disorder commonly referred to as the yips.
Kuo's struggles resurfaced again early last season with the Dodgers, forcing him to look more inward for help with Dorfman no longer available. The well-documented inability of Kuo to throw a baseball to his catcher's mitt at times last season is a big reason the Mariners were able to sign the Taiwan native to a one-year, incentive-laden deal they hope becomes a bargain for a one-time All-Star who could throw 95 mph.
"He's a hard worker," said Kuo's agent, Alan Chang. "He's a special guy."
The Mariners also agreed to a one-year deal with former Blue Jays relief pitcher Shawn Camp, 36, a ground-ball specialist who could be used in a more situational role. To clear roster room, catcher Chris Gimenez and outfielder Mike Wilson were designated for assignment.
Seattle entered the offseason looking to add experience and depth to an increasingly young relief corps. They brought in veteran left-hander George Sherrill in late December and now have added Camp and a potential setup man in Kuo, who made the National League All-Star team with the Dodgers just two years ago after overcoming his first anxiety-related setback.
Chang said his client is one of the hardest-working players in baseball, often among the first to arrive at a ballpark and the last to leave. Besides the anxiety battles that have seen Kuo firing balls out of his own bullpen, the pitcher has endured five arm surgeries since breaking into pro ball as a 17-year-old in 1999.
"The people we talked to felt pretty good about it," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said of Kuo's comeback. "They felt he was doing pretty well. I spoke to him personally and got a good feeling about where he's at."
Kuo is still doing behind-the-scenes work to better cope with his anxiety. He spent six weeks on the disabled list after his issues resurfaced again early last season. He had an earned-run average of 11.57 at the time, had fired a ball over the second baseman's head during pitchers fielding practice, then could not throw a strike in the bullpen while warming up.
He continued to struggle upon his return, though he improved somewhat the final two months, striking out 18 batters in 14 innings.
The Mariners hope to see more of that as they look to Kuo for some possible late-inning duties against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. He and Camp could provide more experience to complement relievers such as Tom Wilhelmsen, Shawn Kelley and Charlie Furbush.
"It's going to be a young bullpen," Zduriencik said. "So, the fact you have two veteran guys ... certainly adds a little to the equation."
• Minor-league catcher Christian Carmichael has been suspended 50 games for a positive drug test. He hit .182 last year in 11 at-bats in the Arizona Rookie League. He tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, a mild stimulant.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners.