Just take a second and imagine where the Yankees would be today if Brian Cashman hadn’t signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason.
With injuries forcing CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte to miss significant time, I think it’s safe to say that they wouldn’t find themselves with a five game lead in the division and the best record in the AL.
“You can only have so many starters on the DL and (still) run out big league starters that have been through it before,” Joe Girardi said. “Eventually, your depth is tested.”
Kuroda has undeniably been the Yankees most consistent starter, compiling an impressive 3.24 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. At 37 years old, Kuroda is having arguably his best season. No one would have ever predicted him being leaned on as the Yankees’ ace, but injuries have forced him into that role — and he has responded.
“His ability to throw his sinker, his ability to throw his offspeed over when he’s behind in the count, his ability to get groundballs, he doesn’t beat himself, and he can hold runners,” Girardi said. “He knows how to pitch. He wasn’t a guy who we thought was going to come in and blow people away. We knew he knew how to pitch. He’ll still get up to 94 at times, but if you know how to pitch, you can get people out. If you have different weapons, you can get people out.”
The big question for Kuroda coming into the season was how would he respond to deep lineups of the AL East after coming from the offensively challenged NL West. As recent history tells us, the transition from the NL to the AL can be rough on pitchers (just look at Ryan Dempster’s performance last night). But Kuroda has shown that he can handle AL lineups, and he’ll get a chance to see one of the best tonight in the second game of a four-game set against the Texas Rangers.
With October approaching, it’s clear that Kuroda will need to maintain his consistency for the Yankees to make any real noise in the postseason.
• The buzz in the clubhouse prior to tonight’s game was surrounding Andy Pettitte, who made an appearance and spoke with the media for about 10 minutes. He seemed to be moving around pretty well and declared that, “I’m feeling really good.” He said he’s mostly done light tossing to go along with rehab work in the pool and on the bike up to this point. He experienced some swelling after pushing things a bit too far in Seattle a few weeks back, so it sounds like they’re being extra cautious with him to avoid any further setbacks — but he did mention a few times that he is feeling good. The plan is for him to do some long tossing this week, then the doctors will decide what the next step is. “Obviously, my question is, just tell me when I can get on the mound,” Pettitte said. “As soon as I can do that, I can have some sort of idea of when I can be ready.”
• In other rehab news, A-Rod is supposed to do some hitting today, according to Girardi. He hasn’t taken any BP yet, which leads me to believe he’ll probably get his work in at the indoor cage. But he was out here running, and once again, tossing a football around.
• With the left-handed Matt Harrison pitching tonight for the Rangers, Ichiro is once again receiving the night off in favor of Andruw Jones. With the Yankees seeing so many lefties of late, this will be the third game in four days in which Ichiro isn’t in the starting lineup. He seems like he’s beginning to feel more comfortable and swinging the bat better in the past week or so, and he was productive last night in his first appearance hitting in the nine-hole. He easily legged out a triple, but Girardi was even more impressed with the bunt that he laid down leading up to Nick Swisher’s grand slam in the bottom of the third. “I know he’s a smart player, and I know he’s a gifted player who is able to do what you ask him to do,” Girardi said. “That’s really helpful. His ability to lay down a great bunt kind of set up that inning a little bit.”
• After four scoreless innings of work in his Yankees debut last night, Girardi said that he’s going to give Derek Lowe at least two games off. He’ll check with him on Thursday before determining if he’s available for the series finale. I don’t know how you guys felt, but it was really weird seeing Lowe in pinstripes.
• Girardi has had the opportunity to manage some of the most successful Japanese-born players to ever play in the majors in the past few seasons (Kuroda, Ichiro, Hideki Matsui), and he had an interesting take on the added pressure that he believes all of those players feel. “I’ve always talked about it seems like players from Japan take on a little bit more weight just because they’re representing their country over here,” he said. “I think they take that to heart a lot. Sometimes, it’s a lot to carry.”
• Interesting home and away splits for Kuroda this season. In the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, he is 7-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 88 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .227 batting average. In away games, Kuroda is 3-4 with a 4.23 in 61 2/3 innings while allowing opponents to hit .288. He’s also had a tremendous amount of success in day games, going 4-1 with a 0.84 ERA in 42 2/3 innings.
• Here is tonight’s lineup for the Texas Rangers: 1. Kinsler (2B); 2. Andrus (SS); 3. Hamilton (CF); 4. Beltre (3B); 5. Cruz (RF); 6. Young (1B); 7. Murphy (LF); 8. Martinez (C); 9. Moreland (DH).
Associated Press photos