Kuo cools off Volcanoes in Game 1

Right-hander fires seven three-hit innings as Tri-City takes opener

(Tom Priddy/MiLB.com)

By John Torenli / Special to MLB.com | September 7, 2009 8:52 PM ET

Sheng-An Kuo didn't get his chance to start when the Tri-City Dust Devils lost the 2007 Northwest League Finals to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in four games.

"He would have pitched Game 5 of that series," Tri-City manager Freddie Ocasio revealed. "He pitched the [East Division] clincher for us on the last day of the season that year, but he couldn't get to pitch in the series."

The 23-year-old Taiwanese right-hander certainly left his impression on the championship rematch Monday night.

Kuo scattered three hits and struck out five over seven innings and Rockies' first-round pick Tim Wheeler broke a scoreless deadlock with an RBI double as the Dust Devils took the opener of the best-of-5 series with a 2-0 blanking of the Volcanoes at Gesa Stadium.

Signed by Colorado as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, Kuo went 5-4 with a 4.69 ERA in 15 appearances for Tri-City that season, helping them clinch a postseason berth with an 8-1 victory over Boise.

But the 6-foot-2, 190-pound hurler didn't get a playoff start as the Dust Devils watched the Volcanoes celebrate the second of back-to-back titles.

Facing the highest-scoring team in the league Monday, Kuo (1-0) outdueled Salem-Keizer ace Jorge Bucardo (0-1) with his three-year professional career highlight to date.

"It was his best performance by far," noted Ocasio, who was named the Northwest League's Manager of the Year. "He kept them off-balance all night and threw strikes. He was aggressive in the strike zone with his changeup and slider. Everything that he threw up there was for strikes."

After surrendering a one-out double to Dan Cook in the opening frame, Kuo mowed down 13 straight batters before hitting Aaron Lowenstein with two outs in the fifth.

Juan Martinez flied out to center to end the frame, and Kuo worked around back-to-back singles by Evan Crawford and Cook in the sixth by getting league MVP Drew Biery to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Kuo capped his effort with a 1-2-3 seventh before Ocasio decided to take the ball.

"We thought about [letting him pitch the eighth], but he was right at 79 pitches," Ocasio noted. "The most I think he threw this year was 72. We had [Craig] Bennigson and [Charles] Ruiz in the bullpen. Both of those guys were All-Stars in the league."

Bennigson pitched around a single in the eighth before Ruiz, who led the circuit with 17 saves this season, struck out the side in the ninth to close out the Dust Devils' first playoff win since taking the opener of the 2007 Finals from the Volcanoes.

Wheeler, the 32nd overall selection in this year's Draft, made sure Kuo qualified for the win when he followed Joey Wong's leadoff single in the sixth with a two-base hit to right-center field.

"It was a huge hit, especially with two strikes," Ocasio said. "He battled and put a great swing on it and hit it in the gap."

Joseph Scott sacrificed before Ben Paulsen, the Rockies' third-round pick in June, ripped a single into center for a 2-0 advantage.

"With a 2-0 lead, I don't want to say I felt comfortable, but having those guys in the bullpen, it was comfortable enough," said Ocasio. "I felt comfortable that we were going to get the job done."

Despite taking the loss, Bucardo went the distance in his first playoff start. The 19-year-old Nicaraguan right-hander allowed two runs on eight hits with six strikeouts over eight innings.

None of the four hurlers in the contest walked a batter as the game was played in an hour and 44 minutes.

Tri-City's Wes Musick (3-0, 2.49 ERA) will face Salem-Keizer's Chris Gloor (7-1, 2.61) in Game 2 on Tuesday before the series shifts to Volcanoes Stadium for the final three games.

"[Winning Game 2 is] huge because in 2007, we won the game here and then lost the second game," Ocasio recalled. "So it's important to go back there with a 2-0 lead."

John Torenli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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