Kuo’s release leaves four lefties in bullpen battle

Veteran left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo was released by the Mariners on Monday, opening a spot on the team’s 40-man roster and ending the bid for a comeback with Seattle by the former National League All-Star.

Kuo, 30, was having a tough spring with a 17.55 ERA in six appearances. He’d signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with Seattle after being released by the Dodgers following a difficult 2011 season.

If Kuo clears waivers, it’s possible he could be brought back on a Minor League deal, but it was clear he was going to have a tough time cracking the 25-man roster cming out of camp.

Kuo was one of the NL’s top relievers from 2008-10 with the Dodgers and earned an All-Star berth in 2010, when he posted a 1.20 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 60 innings.  But the native of Taiwan battled a back problem and anxiety issues in 2011, when he had a 9.00 ERA in 40 appearances before being released after the season.

The Mariners hoped the 6-foot-2, 240-pound lefty could regain his former command, but he gave up 15 hits and four walks with four strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings this spring. In his last outing, Kuo allowed four hits and four runs – including a three-run home run – and also hit a batter in one inning against the White Sox.

The move leaves the Mariners with four left-handed relievers among their 39 players in camp, with George Sherrill, Cesar Jimenez, Charlie Furbush and Rule 5 draft pick Lucas Luetge.

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