Hiroki Kuroda will lead you to believe he has not tried harder, or focused with more intensity, in the absence of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. His ascendency to Yankee ace in their absence has been a matter of simpler things, like the command of his sinker and slider and the frequency with which he has thrown strikes.
“Not at all do I have that kind of pressure,” he said. “All I’m thinking about is trying to pitch my game and try to keep winning whenever I pitch.”
Of course, with the facts being what they are, it’s clear Kuroda has chased away fears throughout the clubhouse. He beat the Red Sox 4-1 tonight with eight strong innings and is now 9-2 with a 2.38 ERA in his last 16 starts.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Pettitte said. “He’s not just throwing good games. He’s going out and dominating.”
Indeed, Kuroda was at his best again Sunday. He threw 75 of his 112 pitches for strikes, allowed four hits and walked no one. The only blemish was a solo homer by Adrian Gonzalez with one out in the seventh. It hardly spooked Kuroda, who went on to throw a perfect eighth.
“Even if those guys are here we still need him. He’s a big part of this team,” Derek Jeter said. “He’s been pitching extremely well. If we had scored a few more runs for him, we’d have a few more wins. But we have a lot of confidence in him when he’s on the mound. He’s kept us in most games he’s pitched.”
A great stat on Kuroda: He had pitched 16 2/3 innings without allowing a run before the Gonzalez home run. Over that span, he had surrendered just six hits, all of which were singles.
He has now allowed three earned runs or less in each of his last seven starts, matching the longest stretch by a Yankee this season (Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova). He has also thrown six innings or more in those seven starts, a streak that is one shy of a career high set last year with the Dodgers.
• Ichiro Suzuki had three hits, including a pair of solo home runs to right off Josh Beckett that gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead. Ichiro later added an infield single, giving him a .322 average and three home runs in his first 87 at-bats as a Yankee. He batted just .261 with four home runs in 402 at-bats with Seattle.
“If he’d been a Yankee for a number of years, who knows how many home runs he might have hit,” Girardi said. “We know there’s power there.”
Ichiro said he was “embarrassed” in the sixth after he obliged fans asking for a curtain call.
• Alex Rodriguez and Pettitte both received good news from their X-rays tonight, although neither is quite ready to return. The exams did show improvement, and both hope to increase the intensity of their baseball activities soon.
Rodriguez, who has not played since July 24, will continue to do strengthening exercises with the training staff. He expects to have another evaluation after Thursday’s off day and hopes he will be cleared to swing then.
“It’s definitely healing good,” Rodriguez said. “The doctor was encouraged by the pictures, so we’ll continue to heal.”
Pettitte has not been on a mound since June 27 and has not been cleared to return to one yet. He will, however, continue to throw off flat ground and begin to push off the left leg during his those sessions.
“Hopefully, maybe when we get back from this road trip I can get on a mound,” Pettitte said. “The doctor hasn’t told me that yet, but I’m hoping that will be when it will be.”
• Derek Jeter had three hits and scored two runs. He extended his league-leading hit total to 163, four more than San Francisco’s Melky Cabrera, who just began serving a 50-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs. He also moved within one of Nap Lajoie for 12th on the all-time hit list and one of Craig Biggio for 13th on the all-time run list. The 38-year-old Jeter now has 3,151 career hits and 1,843 career runs scored.
“My hope was that giving him a couple of DH days would keep him in the lineup and so far it’s worked,” Girardi said.
Jeter is now batting .373 in his last 15 games and has hit safely in 14 of them. His 163 hits and 26 doubles have already surpassed last year’s totals of 162 and 24, respectively.
• Robinson Cano was hitless in his previous 16 at-bats before singling off Beckett in the fifth. Cano had actually just one hit in his previous 25 at-bats – a home run last Sunday in Toronto.
• Curtis Granderson went 1 for 2 with an RBI double and drew two walks in his first start in the cleanup spot as a Yankee. It was just the second game he started batting cleanup in his career.
• The Yankees snapped their dubious streak against the slumping Beckett. They beat him in the Bronx for the first time since Aug. 8, 2010. He had been 5-0 in New York over his last seven starts.