08/20/12 12:40 AM ET
Kuroda providing an excess of Bronx success
Veteran Yankees right-hander is 9-4 with a 2.22 ERA at home this season
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
This argument was only completely, comprehensively, totally wrong.
The notion was that Kuroda would be moving into much tougher pitching terrain. He would no longer be pitching against some relatively innocuous National League West lineups, nor would he be toiling in the pitcher-friendly ballparks in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
Instead, Kuroda would be pitching in a truly difficult division, the AL East, with tougher hitters, designated hitters, and in ballparks with smaller dimensions. The degree of difficulty would be much greater for him and he would not be able to duplicate his work with the Dodgers. So the argument went.
With 25 starts in the books for Kuroda as a member of the Yankees, the sample size is large enough to declare a winner in this debate. That would be Hiroki Kuroda.
By the numbers, Kuroda, at age 37, has been doing some of the best work of his career this season. He was better with the Dodgers than he was in professional Japanese baseball. He now is better with the Yankees than he had been with the Dodgers. After a victory over the Red Sox on Sunday night, Kuroda was asked about successfully increasing his effectiveness at this point in his career.
"As a pitcher I try to evolve and be creative, every year that I pitch," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "I like to believe that I'm evolving and that I'm a better pitcher now than I was before."
The numbers support the concept of Kuroda's evolution and improvement.
Kuroda was 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in four seasons with the Dodgers. The ERA was a much better measurement of his worth than the win-loss record, because some of those Dodgers clubs were offensively challenged. By the measurement of ERA it could be argued that Kuroda was better in Los Angeles than we was in the Japanese Central League. In 11 seasons in Japanese Baseball, Kuroda was 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA.
But so far in 2012, he has been better with the Yankees than at either of the two earlier stops. He is 12-8 with a 2.96 ERA this year. And at the very time of the season when you might expect that American League hitters would be growing accustomed to him, Kuroda is throwing his very best baseball.
Kuroda has pitched better recently than anybody this side of Felix Hernandez. In a start on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium against the Rangers, the highest-scoring team in the Majors, Kuroda pitched a two-hit shutout. Combine the high-powered offense of the Rangers, with the hitter-friendly nature of new Yankee Stadium, and the degree of difficulty for a pitcher couldn't get much higher.
Kuroda encored Sunday night with another superb performance, this time stopping the Red Sox on one run, four hits over eight innings. Kuroda's performance led the Yankees to a 4-1 victory, giving the division-leading Bronx Bombers a victory in the weekend series and an 8-4 lead in the season series against Boston.
Kuroda walked none and struck out four He may have been even better than his line suggested. Thirteen of the 24 outs he recorded were on ground balls. Over the first five innings, the Red Sox hit only three balls out of the infield.
Both of these starts came at an especially important time for the Yankees, with the ace of their rotation, CC Sabathia, on the disabled list. But these performances are part of a larger, positive trend for Kuroda. He has lost only one decision in the last two months. Since May 27, he is 9-2 with a 2.22 ERA.
"This is how good he has been," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday night. "He has been on a tremendous roll for us. The consistency of his sinker and his slider is really the factor. He got a number of ground-ball outs. He mixes in a few splits."
Girardi also noted the importance of Kuroda stepping up when Sabathia was unavailable.
"We don't want guys to feel that they have to pick up the slack and do more than they're capable of doing," the manager said. "But Hiroki has pitched extremely well in the absence of CC, in the couple little DL stints [Sabathia] has had. It's been important."
And Kuroda is not affected by Yankee Stadium's reputation as a home run hitters' haven. He is 9-4 with a 2.22 ERA at home this season.
"Obviously, it's a smaller stadium compared to other stadiums and there are a lot of home runs hit in this stadium," Kuroda said. "But you can't have any fear. You just have to stay aggressive."
For the last three months, the Yankees haven't had any reason for fear, or even marginal nervousness, with Kuroda on the mound. Far from encountering difficulty in his new surroundings, Kuroda has responded with the best work of his career.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.