Russell Martin had seen it up close, so he truly knew what to expect. Obviously some Yankees scouts had seen the Dodgers in person, and West Coast highlights make their way onto SportsCenter, but it was Martin who came into this season really knowing what to expect from Hiroki Kuroda.
“He seems more like himself now than he was earlier in the year,” Martin said last night. “His sinker is back and his splitty is back. That was the main pitch that wasn’t quite as good earlier in the year. He can throw it to righties or lefties. Some guys, his breaking stuff doesn’t match up as well, so you always have that pitch to throw off the fastball. That’s been key for him.”
From afar, it was easy to expect consistency without dominance. Kuroda just never seemed like the guy of pitcher who could overwhelm a team, but in his past four starts he’s allowed a total of four earned runs. Last night he had runners on base in every inning — with a steady rain falling and a soggy mound under his feet — but he kept pitching out of jams, getting a season-high eight strikeouts.
“(Some pitchers) get down,” Martin said. “They get frustrated and then their thought process is not the same. No matter what happens, you have to keep pitching until they take you out of the game. (Kuroda) was able to calm down and just keep pitching. … He’ll show up some days and just have unhittable stuff. His last start, he was almost untouchable. There are days that he doesn’t quite have the same stuff, but he shows up and he competes. That’s the way he’s always been. He’s going to go out and give you his best effort.”
As the Yankees enter this off day with the best record in the American League, it’s the rotation that’s made the biggest difference. The bullpen has been great, but it was great even when the Yankees were losing. The offense has been productive, but it still goes through ups and downs and movements of frustration. But the Yankees rotation has become a strength of this team, just like they expected when the entered spring training with more starters than they knew what to do with.
“Every starter has a flopper every once in a while,” Girardi said. “But I think this is the Hiroki that we signed.”
Girardi suggested that Kuroda’s improvement has come from getting comfortable with a new team. Martin thinks it’s because his pitches are getting sharper, leading to more confidence. Kuroda seems to think it’s simpler than that.
“I don’t know if I’m getting comfortable with New York, but I think it’s just one game at a time, one pitch at a time,” he said. “You just have to pitch one game, so hopefully the next game will be as successful as this one.”
Associated Press photo