On the same day that Andy Pettitte was placed on the 15-day DL, Hiroki Kuroda reminded Yankee fans that injuries are no big deal in the Bronx these days. Pettitte isn’t expected to miss significant time, but if there was any concern that the mounting injuries might soon become too much to handle, Kuroda didn’t allow it to last long.
“He’s been so good for us,” Joe Girardi said. “Just the innings that he’s given us, the bullpen a lot of times gets the night off to where you can use them in the other games, the quality starts that he’s given us – he’s been outstanding. The way he left us last year, he’s just picked right up and continued to impress us.”
The 38-year-old right-hander has gone at least seven innings without allowing more than two runs in four consecutive starts, and this may have been the best of the bunch. Kuroda pitched eight brilliant innings, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out five in a 5-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night. Simply put, he was in complete control.
“All of my pitches were pretty good today, and that led to a good outing,” Kuroda said. “I felt good all along, but especially in the first inning when I struck out (Jose) Bautista and (Edwin) Encarnacion.”
• Kuroda gave up leadoff double to Melky Cabrera to begin the game, but as he said, he struck out the two most dangerous hitters in the Blue Jays’ back-to-back following that. From there, he was in cruise control. “Every once in awhile, you can feel it out there when a pitcher goes out there, and no matter what you put down, it’s going to be a good pitch,” catcher Austin Romine said. “It made my life a lot easier. He pitched to the glove all night, and we were on the same page. It was smooth out there.”
• I was talking with a few writers, and although CC Sabathia is considered the “ace” of the staff, it’s hard to deny that it’s Kuroda who has been the Yankees’ most consistent starter. Just look at the numbers. He is the stopper for this team, and he prevented the Yankees from losing three in a row for the first time this season. No pitcher on the team has been as consistent. “I think he takes each start individually and expects to do very well. He expects to really give us an opportunity to win,” Girardi said. “He’s pitched well every start, so tonight’s not a whole lot different from what we’ve seen.”
• Everything seemed to be working for Kuroda tonight, but according to Romine, it all started with the sinker. “He wanted to throw that sinker, and the slider was clutch tonight,” he said. “It kept guys off of the fastball. He got some funky swings all night… He can throw a slider anytime. He threw heavy doses to Bautista, but his splitter was there, too.”
• Romine was asked about the language barrier with Kuroda, and whether it makes it more difficult to catch him. “It wasn’t tonight at all,” he said. “Even with the guys that speak Spanish and different languages, there’s like a baseball language and it’s very easy for them to get across what they want to do. When he had something, he was able to tell me what he wanted pretty easily.”
• It’s hard to read too much into Kuroda because everything that he says goes through a translator, but he comes across as a real low-maintenance guy. He never gets emotional, and he’s usually all business. But Girardi said that he’s learned that Kuroda does enjoy himself and what he does. “I think the one thing that you learn about players is their personality, and he’s pretty calm,” Girardi said. “He does smile a lot, and he does laugh a lot, and that’s the one thing that you really don’t know about a player, is his personality. I can do all of the preparation that I do and understand what a guy’s got. I have not been surprised by his stuff, because we looked at him and when we played against him, I was prepared with what he had. His personality is easy to be around, and that’s the one thing that I really didn’t know.”
• Kuroda was asked if he felt any extra pressure due to the news of Pettitte going on the DL: “You may want to think about that, but that’s not easy to do.”
• Kuroda was also asked if, at 38, he sees himself pitching for a few more years after successful outings such as this one. “I don’t really have the luxury to think ahead,” he said. “I treat the next outing as if it’s my last. That’s my mentality.”
• Jays’ starter Mark Buehrle hung with Kuroda through the first six innings, but the Yankees got him in the seventh. David Adams sparked the rally with a ground-rule double to leadoff the inning, and Romine came through two batters later with an RBI double. Both guys had two hits apiece tonight, and Adams now has a hit in each of his first three Major League starts. “That’s what you want these kids to do when you think about the runs we got,” Girardi said. “It was kind of between seven and one (in the lineup) that did a lot of the damage, and (Jayson Nix) had the two sac flies. Those guys provided a lot of support for Hiro tonight.”
• Romine hasn’t hit much since joining the big league club, but he finally got a couple tonight. If he shows that he can contribute offensively, he has an opportunity to earn playing time even when Chris Stewart returns. “I felt real comfortable at the plate tonight,” he said. “I tweaked a little something before the game to get more rhythm. I was dead at the plate – my upper half was dead. I wasn’t generating anything. My hands were still, so I tried to create more rhythm, and it felt good. I took some swings that I haven’t been taking in awhile.”
• Romine also seemed to feel more comfortable now that he knows he’s going to play for at least a few days in a row. “It definitely does,” he said. “You know what to expect. You know when you come to the field, you can get your mind right, rather than wondering if you’re playing or not. I can go home early and study now, and just have that mental mindset when I come to the field that I know I’m in there.”
• While the story early in the season was grizzled vets such as Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner turning back the clocks, we’re now seeing some of the young guys mix in nicely. Adams looks like he has the ability to stick in the big leagues, and doesn’t seem overwhelmed at the plate. He’s one of the better offensive infield prospects that we’re seen from the Yankees since Robinson Cano came up. According to Romine, this should be no surprise. “Not at all,” he said. “I’ve played with him for five years, and he eats, sleeps and breathes baseball. When he comes to the field, nothing gets to him. Even his first start, I looked at him and was like, ‘Are you excited?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s just baseball.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ You know, some guys say that, but when he says it, he means it. He’s comfortable. He’s a big leaguer.”
• Girardi was asked if he’s made it clear to Adams and Romine that this a chance to prove themselves. “Not necessarily,” he said. “We talk about the game with them. After the game, I told David Adams, ‘Tremendous job.’ I told Austin Romine, ‘Tremendous job. You’re catching tomorrow.’ That was the extent of it. I think they understand what’s in front of them, and I don’t want to make too much of it. I tell them, ‘Just go out and play, and be who you are.’ I don’t want them to think that it’s going to be their only opportunity. I think they’re pretty talented kids, and they’re going to get plenty of opportunities.”
• Don’t look now, but Brett Gardner seems to be heating up in the leadoff spot. He’s hit safely in six of his last seven games, and he’s been more aggressive on the base paths with four steals in that span. He was responsible for the Yankees’ first run after leading off the game with a triple.
• I’ll give the final word to Girardi, who devoted most of his press conference to Kuroda. “You don’t really have to worry a whole lot about him. When I think about Hiroki, the one thing that we do pay attention to is some of his pitch counts because he’s not 25, either. But he goes out there and sometimes acts like he is, so we have to make sure that we don’t get confused and forget how old he is, and that we take care of him and make sure that he can bounce back every start, because that’s what you want.”
Associated Press photos