China trip is OK by them

Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Among the 27 players the Dodgers are sending to play their two exhibitions against the San Diego Padres next month will be shortstop Chin-lung Hu and left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo.

Hu and Kuo are from Taiwan.

The games, which will be played March 15 and 16, are in Beijing.

But Hu and Kuo said that whatever political tensions exist between their self-governing home island and the country that claims it as its own are of no concern to them.

“That means nothing to me,” Hu said. “We just play baseball. Baseball is the same everywhere.”


Said Kuo: “I didn’t know we had problems.”

The geopolitical issues don’t carry over into the baseball world, said Acey Kohrogi, the Dodgers’ director of Asian operations.

“It’s not like a big political thing within sports,” Kohrogi said. “Taiwan is helping China develop their baseball program. The Taiwanese go to China to teach baseball.”

But the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is real enough that Taiwanese law requires adult males to serve in the military, something from which Hu and Kuo weren’t exempt. At least not completely.

Because Hu and Kuo represented Taiwan in international competitions -- or Chinese Taipei, as the country is often called in such events because of pressure from China -- they were spared the customary 22-month service period. Instead, they took part in a 12-day basic training program for civilians physically unfit to serve in the military.

“There were guys who couldn’t run, were too tall or too fat,” Hu said.

Hu completed the program a year ago, a year after Kuo did.

Hu and Kuo will depart with Manager Joe Torre and the rest of the split squad for China on March 12, a day later than originally scheduled.

Of the players on the trip, 11 are on the 40-man roster and only three are projected starters: Andruw Jones, Matt Kemp and Nomar Garciaparra.


Free of pain

Chad Billingsley pitched two innings in the Dodgers’ 4-4, 10-inning tie with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday and gave up one run and three hits. What pleased Billingsley the most was how when he sat on the bench between innings, he didn’t feel the tightness in the groin that forced him to pitch in a simulated game four days earlier instead of his team’s exhibition opener.

Billingsley said he threw several changeups, a pitch he has worked to develop over the last couple of seasons.

“It’s a real feel pitch,” Billingsley said. “The main thing is trying to find that release point.”

Furcal is fine

Rafael Furcal played only two innings Monday because of tightness in both hamstrings. Furcal said he left the game for precautionary reasons and blamed the tightness on weight lifting he did the previous day. . . . Left-handed pitching prospect Greg Miller, who failed to retire any of the five batters he faced Friday as his well-chronicled bout with control problems continued, threw a side session Sunday under the watchful eye of Sandy Koufax and was taught a new way to grip his fastball. Miller said he would try the new grip when he faced the Washington Nationals in a split-squad game in Vero Beach today. . . . Second baseman Tony Abreu won’t be game-ready until the weekend, Torre said. . . . Contrary to a published report, the Dodgers don’t appear to be interested in Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers, in part because of the $19.1 million he is owed over the next three seasons.