HIROKtober: Kuroda’s time to shine

Projecting Robinson Cano
Estimated 2012 runs saved due to pitch framing
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

From Opening Day through Game 162, Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees’ best and most consistent starting pitcher this year. He served as the staff ace for a big chunk of the summer while CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were on the DL, and he didn’t just get the title by default. From late-May through mid-August, a span of 16 starts and 113.2 innings, Kuroda pitched to a 2.22 ERA and a 2.78 FIP. Overall, his season included a 3.32 ERA and a 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings this season.

That workload appeared to be an issue coming down the stretch, as the 37-year-old right-hander began to look fatigued during his starts, particularly in the later innings. He closed the season out with a dynamite seven-inning, two-run outing against the woeful Red Sox, but prior to that he’d allowed 22 total runs in his previous six starts and 37.2 innings. Eight of those 22 runs were scored after the fifth inning in those starts. As expected though, Kuroda said fatigue was not an issue while speaking with reporters on a conference call yesterday.

“I really haven’t thought anything about (being worn down),” he said. “You know, I don’t really feel fatigued, or I don’t think I can afford to think like that because I always prepare myself for the next game, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”

The Yankees slightly juggled their rotation for the ALDS in an effort to not only give Kuroda extra rest, but to also make sure Andy Pettitte didn’t get too much rest and lose his rhythm. Pettitte allowed three runs in seven innings in Game Two on eight days’ rest while Kuroda will get the ball in Game Three tonight on seven days’ rest. Had he started Game Two, which seemed to be the plan basically all season, he would have been on normal rest.

Like basically every pitcher ever, Kuroda has pitched better with an extra day or two of rest both this year and throughout his career. In 15 starts with normal rest this year, he posted a 3.56 ERA (3.68 FIP) while averaging 6.2 innings per start. With at least one extra day of rest, he pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.82 FIP) while averaging exactly seven innings per start. If Kuroda did tire down the stretch, it didn’t show in his fastball velocity, which actually ticked up late in the season. If the fatigue showed up anywhere, it was in his command.

Tonight’s game is, obviously, the most important game of the season to date. The difference between being up 2-1 or being down 2-1 in a best-of-five series is enormous, and Kuroda’s playoff history is short and spotty. He twirled two gems with the 2008 Dodgers (6.1 scoreless in the NLDS, six-innings of two-run ball in the NLCS) before allowing six runs in 1.1 innings in the 2009 NLCS after an injury kept him out of the NLDS.

“In ’09, I didn’t have all my stuff and I wasn’t feeling good,” added Kuroda on the conference call. “I had an injury to my neck and I couldn’t throw in the divisional series … Until now, I haven’t really thought about ’09. I’m focused on now.”

The Yankees signed Kuroda to little fanfare this offseason mostly because the deal happened on the same day of the Michael PinedaJesus Montero trade, and nothing was stealing attention from that. He went on to serve as the team’s most reliable starter all summer, cranking out quality outing after quality outing. The Yankees are going to need that kind of effort from Kuroda again in Game Three tonight, if not something better given their struggles against Miguel Gonzalez this season.

Projecting Robinson Cano
Estimated 2012 runs saved due to pitch framing
  • Eddard

    This is a must win. I don’t think there’s a soul who has faith in Phil Hughes in an elimination game. The problem is the offense has never supported Hiroki. Gonzalez has shut down this Yankee offense. Shut em down. If we’re going to win Hiroki is going to have to put up 6 or 7 zeroes just as he’s done all year.

    • Winter

      Phil Hughes doesn’t pitch in an elimination game if he doesn’t have to. If the Yankees lose today, we’ll see CC on short rest tomorrow. No doubt in my mind. CC’s pitched brilliantly of late and shown that he can pitch on short rest, and if you’re in a win-or-go-home situation, you want your best pitcher on the mound.

      • Eddard

        Then do you go Andy in Game 5 on short rest because Game 5 would also be an elimination game.

        • Jim Is Bored

          I can’t see the Yankees pitching Andy on short rest.

          • MannyGeee

            I can. Andy got plenty of rest staying off that broken leg. trot him out there Joe!

            • Jim Is Bored

              He’s still 40 and coming off of a 7 inning outing.

              • MannyGeee

                You think Nolan Ryan wants to hear about this? Nolan Ryan don’t care, Nolan Ryan don’t give a shit… he crazy!


        • Matt B

          Should they lose tonight, even though I think it’s a tough call, I do believe you go to CC on short rest – I just think that in game 5 (I suppose in game 4, as well, if they’re down), you’re not necessarily thinking so much about who actually starts but about all hands on deck. I.e., maybe Andy starts the game but only goes 3-4 innings – that type of scenario, robertson and soriano both ought to be able to go two innings – and depending on the score, you have can use Hughes, Phelps, and Lowe. Bullpen games aren’t optimal of course, since you’re running the risk that one guy of many just has nothing. But I think that’s what I’d do. CC on short rest, then start Andy hoping for five really good innings, but being satisfied with 4, or even 3 lock down innings.

          • Mike

            Completely agree with everything, except Hughes being a relief pitcher. If this series goes the distance and if the Yankees win the 5th game, there is no off days between now and next Monday, so there could be 5 straight days of Yankee baseball. And I seriously doubt they’d consider putting Kuroda on short rest if they made it to the ALCS.

            Hughes will certainly be staring 1 of these next 5 games if it goes the distance and Yankees win Game 5.

            Lowe and Phelps would be available.

            I think it’s best to keep Andy on regular rest and let Hughes start Game 4 if up 2-1.

            • Mike

              Let me edit my last part:

              I think it’s best to keep Andy on regular rest and let Hughes start Game 4 if up 2-1 or CC start Game 4 if down 2-1, and if it’s tied 2-2 after 4, let Hughes go Game 5.

              I don’t see any chance of Hughes being a relief pitcher in this series.

            • Matt B

              Yeah, I largely agree, but I’m not sure I’d say I think it’s an impossibility – but it’d be highly, highly preferable not to use Phil at all if you’re starting Andy. The only scenario I can see is if Andy is basically done after 3 or 4 outs – does Joe trust Phelps to a significant enough extent over Hughes to go to him for that long? For sure, you work in Lowe, but not sure I’d want to see him for more than two innings.

          • FIPster Doofus


        • Matt B

          My concern with Andy on short rest isn’t his arm – which did indeed get plenty of rest and seems plenty strong. It’s the legs, which even Andy will admit he doesn’t fully have under him. I don’t have a problem letting Andy start that game. But if you do, I think you’re asking him to go 3-5 innings and let it all hang out. Think Clemens in game 5 against Oakland in 2001.

    • MannyGeee

      I have faith in Sir Philip of Hughes.

      just that I have slightly more faith in him to win us into the ALCS than I do with him keeping us from elimination.

      and I predict Gonzalez gets his ass handed to him tonight. hes due to regress to the norm.

    • Mister D

      “The only must wins are games you must win.” – a scientist

    • CP

      I have confidence in Phil to pitch a great game in game 4.

      • Mike HC

        I have faith in Hughes to pitch well no matter the game. He is a very strong fourth starter in my opinion.

        • FIPster Doofus

          Hughes is a fourth starter because he’s inconsistent. He could throw seven strong innings or the Orioles could kick his ass. It’s tough to have faith in a guy like that with everything on the line.

          • Mike HC

            You are definitely right. I just find myself having faith in Hughes in general. Looking purely by the numbers, I should probably have less of it.

        • Mike

          That he is. I just really hope he doesn’t pitch in the series down 2-1 against arguably the Orioles ace pitcher, which is one of the main reasons I say to save him for a Game 5 should it go there and let CC go Game 4

          And I assume Game 5 of the O’s would be started by Hammel or Saunders, which would definitely make a better matchup for Hughes, not to mention as you said earlier, it’s not much about who’s starting but it’s all hands on deck .

          • Mike HC

            I don’t think I mentioned anything before, but I will take credit if you agreed! ha

            As for who should start Game 4 should we lose tonight, I would lean towards agreeing with you and going with CC. It would sure stink to watch us lose the series while our best starter was watching from the bench when he could have pitched. One of CC’s greatest strengths seems be starting on short rest, we might as well take advantage of it.

            • Mike

              Ahh sorry, it was Matt B who said it, not you.

              But be careful, I got ripped on by several people for suggesting CC should start Game 4 if the Yanks lose tonight.

              Don’t want to see the Yankees season on the line with Phil Hughes against Chris Tillman.

              • Mike HC

                It is not a slam dunk decision either way. I think there are about equally good arguments on both sides. Personally, I would lean with throwing CC though.

              • Jim Is Bored

                That’s a terrible misrepresentation of what you got ripped for.

                You got ripped for the reasoning behind it, not the idea that CC should start game 4.

                Would you rather see the season on the line with Phil Hughes against Jason Hammel?

                • Mike

                  Matt B above just said everything I said, with some additional details and now Mike HC is in agreement that it’s better to start CC than Hughes. Therefore, how can I be wrong but they be right?

                • Mike

                  And to answer your question, and as I said numerous times, if the Yankees lose Game 3, I prefer seeing Hughes vs. Hammel/Saunders in a Game 5 than see Hughes vs. Tillman in a Game 4.

  • Matt B

    I’m the king of obvious points sometimes, but I feel like for Hiroki and the team in this particular spot- and it’s been one of his few issues this season – is that first inning. First inning ERA of 5.18 – every other inning, he’s no higher than 3.98 and in most cases significantly lower. Not determinative of course, just gut, the thought of the Yanks behind early tonight is a scary, scary notion. Lock em down early, HIRO.

  • Rivera Venue Blues

    Whether it’s fair to Hiroki or not (it’s probably not), the success of his one-year contract will probably come down to how he pitches tonight. Despite literally carrying our rotation for parts of the year, this game is where he needs to come up biggest.

    • Mike HC

      After far exceeding most people’s expectations I think he is playing with house money. If he bombs, it is still a great year where he just got worn down at the end. If he pitches great all postseason, well then, Yankee hero could be the ceiling!

  • vin

    Man, everything would be so much better if they came out and won tonight. Take some heat of Alex. Put the “who should start game 4” conversation to rest. Considering how he’s pitched this year, Kuroda is a great guy to have going in this pivotal game.

  • not that mike

    Yanks need their offense to show up – besides the explosion late in Game 1 (helped by two dinky hits by Jeter and Ichiro, and an opposite field flair by Cano) their offense has been non-existant.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Yes, if you take away their hits, the offense has been terrible. Take away two hanging sliders — one from Sabathia and one from Pettitte — and the Orioles have one run in two games. It works both ways.

      • FIPster Doofus

        New York’s offense is a lot better than Baltimore’s, so expectations are going to be higher. The Yankees haven’t done nearly enough against either Oriole starter in this series.

      • rek4gehrig

        Thanks Mike.Finally a voice of reason. I really dont know what people expect to see in the playoffs espepcially with such good pitching. All I care about is a win, whether it’s one run or 10 runs.

        • FIPster Doofus

          Wei-Yin Chen is average.

          • MannyGeee

            The Yankees have not hit Chen well at all this season. it makes me sick to my stomach. Fuck Chen

          • CountryClub

            Not when he’s getting multiple inches on both sides of the plate. He was an above avg pitcher in that game because he didnt have to throw pitches over the plate to get strikes. Pettitte had the same advantage; unfortunately, Andy had one tough inning.

      • MannyGeee

        Also, take away Andino falling on a line drive, and A-rod has a solid little post-season so far. and we’re up 2-0.

        i love the fruitless hypothetical game… now what happens if we traded for Ray Holliday!

  • Silverback

    Time to shine is an understatement. Man, we may need him to pitch a 10-inning shutout

    • JohnC

      With the way that Gonzalez has shut the Yanks down this year, you may not be far off the mark

      • gc

        Gonzalez also gave up 3 home runs in one start against the Yankees. It’s not like he pulled a Cliff Lee in game 1 of the World Series on them every time out. He’s hittable.

      • Mandy Stankiewicz
        • MannyGeee

          NO A-Rod on that list though…

          “So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

  • Marcy

    We have to believe in Kuroda – what choice is there? Hopefully the rest will do him good. I’m more concerned about Phil – he hasn’t been great of late and he isn’t great on extra rest.

    I’d be shocked if they asked Andy to pitch on short rest – something was clearly bothering him after that great beginning. I know he said he lost feeling for some of his pitches but something was clearly bothering him. I also wondered about his pick-off move – does his ankle prohibit him from doing his balancing on one leg move? Anyway, it’s a question/concern for me.

    I hope Chavez is in the lineup with Ibanez playing in the outfield. He may not be as good as Swisher in the field (& Swish isn’t great)but at least he’ll throw to the proper cutoff man and he’ll hit.

  • dkidd

    its amazing to me how shaken our fan base gets after a single loss

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I lost faith when they didn’t sweep the ALDS in one game.

  • Athenian

    ARod batting 3rd tonight. Does the binder run Joe’s mind or is he the guy that keeps going all in at the poker table when he is holding nothing.

    • Mike

      Joe’s binder has the matchup numbers as far as I know. The numbers say for this year Chavez is much much better against RHP than A-Rod. This is not a binder move. This is a “I need to play the highest paid player in the league” move.

      I guarantee if it was Torre or even anyone else, not only would A-Rod not be batting 3rd, but there’s a good chance he might not even be in the lineup.

      Where do you see the lineup if I may ask?

      • Athenian

        Was reported on ESPN radio during the break of the Cards/Nats game. So it may change by game time, I hope.

        • Luisergi

          It won’t, for shame.

      • MannyGeee

        How dare you assume you know what is in the binder. How dare you indeed, sir…

        But in all seriousness, do you even REMEMBER Joe Torre managing? He was the king of riding his horses to the end, right wrong or indifferent. This was the reason in 2008 people spent countless hours (in sites like RAB) saying that “Anyone would be better than this stiff Girardi Torre

        Torre was a great guy and all, but lets not get too far ahead of ourselves here

        • Chip Off the Ol’Knoblauch

          I just remember seeing a lot Scott Proctor those years. I was a bit surprised Proctor went to LA when Torre was managing. Talk about a glutton for punishment.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          When in doubt, stop reading at “binder.”

          • Joe Girardi

            What’s wrong with the binder?

        • Robinson Tilapia

          …and they’ll dump on the next guy too.

    • Mike HC

      He shouldn’t have started the postseason in the middle of the order to begin with, and now Joe must feel some obligation to stick with that for fear of crushing ARod’s confidence and maybe even risk losing some of the locker room. If we have to play an elimination game, I would hope ARod would no longer get the benefit of the doubt.


    hated the day off.. cant wait for tonight… so in my boredom last night i recorded this song for the yanks.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNxBl7dAW3E …hope you enjoy… share it with the yankee family


  • Mike

    For all the talks we had about who should start Game 4, Girardi said it will be Hughes regardless