Admittedly, Joe Girardi had not seen much of Hiroki Kuroda prior to the Yankees decision to sign the right-hander this offseason. So far in this young season, the signing has paid dividends.
“The only thing I knew about him was what I had seen in the one game that he started against us, and just watching film,” Girardi said. “Considering what type of pitcher he is – he’s been pretty much a groundball pitcher for a good part of his career – he induces more groundballs than flyballs, and I think that bodes well usually, especially at this ballpark. He was a guy for me that has pitched in pressure-packed situations… I thought it was a pretty good fit.”
Kuroda looked like a great fit last Friday, as he pitched eight stellar innings, allowing five hits and no runs while striking out six. He also recored 12 outs via the groundball, erasing the bad taste he had left in Yankees’ fans mouths after allowing six runs (four earned) in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in his first start.
The Yankees are hoping that Kuroda pitches more like he did on Friday in tonight’s start against the Minnesota Twins to solidify the No. 2 spot in their rotation. While the Yankees do seem to have an abundance of starting pitchers, they entered the season with no clear-cut No. 2 behind ace CC Sabathia. Girardi gave Kuroda the nod to start the second game of the season, and has liked what he’s seen so far.
“The biggest thing is that he pitches to his strengths,” Girardi said. “If you pitch to your strengths, you have a much better chance of getting guys out. Sometimes you get so caught up in a scouting report and pitch away from your strengths just trying to pitch to the scouting report. For Hiroki, go with what’s got you to this point.”
• I was thinking that I could see Alex Rodriguez getting a day off soon on my way to the ballpark, and that’s exactly what Girardi decided to do. The results have not been favorable for A-Rod since his 3 for 4 performance last Friday, and I figured they might want to give him a break before this weekend’s series in Boston. “Just trying to be proactive,” said Girardi, who noted that A-Rod had not had a full day off yet this season. “Not wanting to run him into the ground where we end up having to give him a couple of days off… To me, he’s swung the bat well. I know he hasn’t gotten a lot of hits lately, but he’s lined out a few times.”
• Girardi was asked about his thoughts on A-Rod’s at-bats of late. (For what it’s worth, he’s putting on a display in BP right now. Balls are flying out to all fields.) “I don’t see him chasing a lot of pitches,” Girardi said. “I see him being patient and trying to wait for his pitch. To me, he’s done everything that he needs to do to be successful. He’s just run into some bad luck.”
• With A-Rod out, Mark Teixeira will hit third against Twins’ RHP Jason Marquis, with Robinson Cano sliding into the cleanup spot. Tex was out with flu-like symptoms yesterday, but he said he was feeling much better when asked in the clubhouse. Here’s a telling stat: Through 11 games, the Yankees have gone without an RBI from the cleanup spot. That’s not very good.
• Nick Swisher will DH and hit fifth, with Raul Ibanez playing in right and hitting sixth. In his brief time in the outfield so far this season, Ibanez has not looked completely comfortable. “I don’t necessarily think he needs it today,” Girardi said when asked why he DHed Swisher. “But I think as we go through this, it will pay dividends with 13 games in a row.”
• Eric Chavez will get his first start of the season today at third. He only has four at-bats so far this season, which is a bit surprising. Eduardo Nunez has been receiving the starts at third on the days that A-Rod has been the DH, which is because those have been days when the Yankees are facing a lefty. Ibanez has somewhat eliminated the need for another left-handed bat, but Chavez showed last season that he’s still capable of producing. No sense in letting him waste away on the bench.
• A lot of the pregame talk was about Girardi’s increasing use of defensive shifts so far this season. Rays’ manager Joe Maddon has become a trend-setter of sorts, with more and more teams across the managers utilizing the shift against hitters who have the tendency to hit the ball to certain spots. It’s somewhat surprising that it took so long for teams to come around on the idea, but it generally takes one team having success with it before others will follow. Girardi denied the notion that he was motivated to use shifts more after that opening series, but did acknowledge that he intends to use it more often. “I don’t think it’s a reaction to what happened to us, but it’s a reaction to all of the data that’s being put out now that all of the clubs are seeing,” said Girardi, who also mentioned that they have more data to reference each season. “Some of it is the type of pitchers that we have, as well.”
• Girardi confirmed the starters for this weekend’s series in Boston: Ivan Nova will start on Friday, Freddy Garcia on Saturday and CC on Sunday. Phil Hughes will pitch the final game of this four-game set with the Twins tomorrow.
• Here’s the Twins starting lineup: 1. Denard Span (CF); 2. Jamey Carroll (SS); 3. Joe Mauer (C): 4. Josh Willingham (LF); 5. Justin Morneau (DH); 6. Chris Parmalee (1B); 7. Sean Burroughs (3B); 8. Clete Thomas (RF); 9. Alexi Casilla (2B).
• Three Yankees in today’s starting lineup have career batting averages over .300 vs. Marquis. Cano (.667) and Swisher (.333) only have three career at-bats each against Marquis, while Ibanez is hitting .364 in 22 at-bats with two homers and eight RBI. Interestingly, Andruw Jones has crushed Marquis in his career with an average of .750. In 12 at-bats, he has five home runs, but Girardi decided to keep him on the bench.
• Only Willingham has seen Kuroda before among starters for the Twins, and he’s hitting just .111 in nine at-bats.
Associated Press photos