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Japan suspends Rios for a year after drug test

June 30,2008
Daniel Rios
American pitcher Daniel Rios of Japan’s Yakult Swallows, who won the most valuable player award in the Korea Baseball Organization in 2007, was suspended from Japanese baseball for a year on Saturday after a failed drug test. The Swallows subsequently released him and the KBO confirmed that Rios was never tested while playing in Korea.

According to the Nippon Professional Baseball, a test conducted after a May 21 game showed traces of hydroxystanozolol, a metabolite of the anabolic steroid stanozolol, and the second sample taken from Rios found the same banned substance on June 21.

Rios, 35, is the third player in Japan to fail a drug test since the NPB tightened its drug testing last year. Yomiuri Giants’ Luis Gonzalez was also suspended for a year last month and cut by the Giants. Pitcher Rick Guttormson of the Softbank Hawks received a 20-day suspension last year.

Rios pitched six seasons in Korea for the Kia Tigers and the Doosan Bears, going 90-59 with 13 saves and a 3.01 earned run average. He posted double-digit wins for six straight seasons.

In 2007, Rios led the KBO with 22 wins and 2.07 ERA, becoming the first KBO pitcher to win 20 games in eight years and the first foreign pitcher to win the league MVP honors.

But he had struggled mightily in Japan, going 2-7 with a 5.46 ERA before being demoted to the minors on June 2.

Rio denied that he had knowingly taken performance-enhancing substances and said the medication he received last winter in the United States for back treatment might have been the cause of the positive test.

Rios said he was aware the medication contained substances that are banned in Japan, but added the doctor told him they would not stay in his system for too long.

NPB’s secretary general Kazuo Hasegawa was quoted in Kyodo News that the one-year ban is “quite appropriate” in Rios’ case.

“The substance detected this time carries heavy weight in our anti-doping policy,” Hasegawa said. “It is one of the substances that must be most strictly prohibited.”

Pitching against the SK Wyverns in the first game of the 2007 Korean Series last October, Rios, the Doosan Bears’ right-handed starter at the time, threw a complete game, four-hit shutout.

He reached 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour on his fastball in the ninth inning, prompting SK manager Kim Sung-keun to muse, “That’s just not possible. He is not human.”

But Kim and other suspicious fans have no way of knowing whether Rios was on steroids during his Korean career.

Jeong Geum-jo, the KBO director of baseball operations, confirmed that Rios was not tested last fall when three players from each of the eight teams were randomly chosen for the league’s first round of doping tests.

“I was surprised to see Rios test positive in Japan right after he played in Korea,” Jeong said.

“Our testing system is fine as it is but we will continue to be vigilant on performance-enhancing drugs.”

Rios told reporters in Japan that he had a urine and blood sample taken in Korea. But Doosan trainer Gang Heum-deok said it was for the regular medical checkup by the team, not for the doping test.

Kim Tae-ryong, the Bears’ chief of baseball operations and public relations, said the team was only aware of Rios’ regular intake of protein shakes during the season. But he also said, “Since we couldn’t keep an eye on him 24/7, there’s no guarantee he didn’t take any other substances.”


By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]


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