Kuroda dazzles as Yanks take opener from Jays


Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees dropped their last two games to the Mariners, but Hiroki Kuroda made sure his team avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season. The right-hander allowed just two hits and one walk across eight scoreless innings on Friday night, leading the Yankees to their seventh win in eight games against the new-look (but still-awful) Blue Jays. Let’s recap…

  • #HIROK: After former Yankee Melky Cabrera doubled to leadoff the game, not a single Toronto hitter made it beyond first base against Kuroda. He sat down 19 of the next 20 men he faced and threw only 20 of his 108 pitches from the stretch. This was Kuroda at his best — lots of weak contact and easy outs. When the Yankees needed a strong outing to spare their short bullpen and pickup a weak lineup, he was up to the task and then some. Love this guy.
  • Early Runs: Mark Buehrle has had a rough go of it in the AL East, and Yankees jumped on him early for a one-run lead. Brett Gardner saw Melky’s leadoff double and raised him a leadoff triple, then came in to score on Robinson Cano‘s ground out. Jayson Nix plated an insurance run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fifth, then the Bombers blew it open with a three-run seventh. Austin Romine‘s two-strike double opened the floodgates, plating one run and setting up two more. That third time through the order did in Buehrle.
  • Leftovers: Preston Claiborne finished things off with a scoreless ninth, though he did put men at second and third before recording the final out … David Adams continued to impress with a 2-for-4 night that included a ground-rule double and two runs scored … Romine and Gardner had two knocks apiece while Nix didn’t have an official at-bat, instead walking twice and hitting two sac flies … the 3-6 hitters went a combined 1-for-16 with a walk and five strikeouts … for the fifth time in the last six games, the Yankees did not hit a homer … in case you’re wondering, the Rangers are the only other team in baseball without a three-game losing streak.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees remain atop the AL East by one game over the Red Sox and two over the Orioles. They’ll send David Phelps to the mound on Saturday afternoon against Brandon Morrow. Check out RAB Tickets for last minute … well, tickets.

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Kuroda twirls shutout as Yanks take series from Orioles

As much as I love homers and lots of offense, there is nothing quite like a dominant pitching performance. The Yankees got an absolute gem from their number two starter in an important early-season game on Sunday, shutting out the division rival Orioles 3-0.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

#HIROK Star
This says all you need to know about Hiroki Kuroda‘s outing: the Orioles didn’t get a man to second base until there were two outs in the ninth, and that was the result of an error. The veteran right-hander showed no lingering effects of the line drive he took to his finger tips two starts ago, keeping the Fightin’ Showalters off balance with a two-seamer that was running all over the place and offspeed pitches that were dotting the edges of the zone. Kuroda threw 54 fastballs and 59 offspeed pitches (32 splits, 23 sliders, four curves), so yeah, good luck figuring out what was coming next.

Twenty-two of the 32 Orioles batters saw a first pitch strike and 24 of 27 outs were recorded on the infield (five strikeouts, 18 ground balls, one pop-up). Five singles, no walks, no hit-batsmen, and because no runners made it as far as second until the game was basically over, Kuroda was never really in much trouble and never once did it feel like Baltimore was on the verge of putting together something big. He was in complete control from start to finish. It was Kuroda at his finest. Just a joy to watch. I wish he was five years younger so they could give him a five-year contract. Seriously.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

First The Small Ball, Then The Long Ball
Kuroda and Wei-Yin Chen matched zeroes for the first four and a half innings, but the Yankees finally broke through for three runs in the fifth. Brennan Boesch and Frankie Cervelli opened the inning with singles, and Boesch moved to third on Lyle Overbay‘s sacrifice fly. Backup backup shortstop Jayson Nix has been pretty terrible this year — came into the game 3-for-19 (.158) with eight strikeouts — but he plated the first run of the game with a sac fly to right. A run was sufficiently manufactured.

Of course, the Yankees are the Bronx Bombers are it’s only a matter of time before they get back to hitting the ball out of the park. One pitch after Nix’s sac fly, Brett Gardner (!) muscled up on a high fastball and clubbed a two-run homer high off the right field foul pole. It wasn’t a Yankee Stadium cheapie, that thing was long gone. The only question was fair or foul. Two singles, two sac flies, and one really long homer resulted in a three-run lead. That was all Kuroda needed.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Leftovers
It’s not that easy to win a game when your 3-4-5 hitters combine to go 0-for-11 with one walk and four strikeouts, but that’s exactly what the Yankees did on Sunday. Heck, add in Vernon Wells and it’s still 1-for-15 with a walk from the 2-3-4-5 hitters. The rest of the lineup went a combined 6-for-14 with a walk. The middle of the order has been carrying the offense early on, so it was good to see the rest of the guys pick them up when they had their first real bad game.

It’s not easy to out-bad defense Eduardo Nunez, but Nix has certainly done it thus far this year. He fumbled the exchange on a double play pivot and then muffed a ground ball in this game, but thankfully neither came back to bite the team. Considering the injuries to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as well as Nunez’s general shakiness, the Yankees need to find themselves a more reliable utility infielder at some point.

In other offense news, Gardner’s dinger was only his third career homer off a lefty, and his first against a southpaw since taking Ricky Romero deep in July 2010. That one was his only career grand slam, as you surely remember.

Oh by the way, Kuroda has now recorded the last three Yankees complete-game shutouts. He did it on July 18th (seven innings, rain-shortened) and August 14th (two-hit the Rangers) of last year. Remember when everyone was worried how he would transition to the AL East? Good times.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are off on Monday, then the Diamondbacks come to town for the three-game series. Ivan Nova will kick that one off against Brandon McCarthy on Tuesday night. In case you’re wondering, no, former Yankee Ian Kennedy is not scheduled to pitch in the series. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to go to any or all of the games.

Hiroki Kuroda talks about returning to the Yankees and preparing for 2013

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

The Yankees reportedly operated with a very straight-forward approach this winter, tackling one priority at a time without deviating from their set path. It’s a very odd way for a baseball team to proceed with the offseason, but so be it. The top priority on New York’s winter agenda was the pitching staff, specifically re-signing their own veteran arms. They checked the first item off the list in mid-November, when Hiroki Kuroda turned down more lucrative offers to return to the club on a one-year, $15M deal.

“It was a good decision, but it was hard,” said Kuroda to Bryan Hoch about re-signing with the Yankees. “There were options that I had. There were offers from other teams, but I ended up making the decision to stay with the Yankees … I’m in that stage where I want to play for a team that I really love to play for, and hopefully when I retire, I’ll have time with my family.”

Kuroda, who turned 38 earlier this month, acknowledged the team’s veteran-laden clubhouse was “really appealing” and swayed his decision, saying “especially with the fact that there are players like (Andy Pettitte) and (Mariano Rivera), who are older than me, and who I can look up to … I absorb a lot from them.”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard about a player signing with the Yankees because of their veteran clubhouse, which in some ways is a market inefficiency the team is exploiting. Guys like Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Pettitte, and Rivera are very well-respected veterans who other veterans want to play alongside. If that helps the Yankees sign these players to address a need on favorable contract terms, great. I’m not sure any other club can pull that off.

As we learned last summer, Kuroda is pretty much a perfect fit for the Yankees. He’s tough and savvy on the mound, and about as reliable a pitcher as you’ll find. He also comes off as a total pro, taking the blame for losses and crediting his teammates for wins. It’s easy and fun to root for someone like that, and it helped Kuroda fit right in as soon as he put on the pinstripes. “You know if a guy is cut out of the same mold as you are,” said Pettitte to Hoch. “We are.”

Because of the hit the offense took this winter, the Yankees are going to have to rely on their pitching staff more than any other point in the last ten years or so, specifically the veterans Sabathia, Kuroda, and Pettitte. Phil Hughes is already having back trouble and who knows what Ivan Nova and David Phelps can contribute, so it’s those three veterans Joe Girardi & Co. will lean on. Kuroda is coming off a career-high 35 starts and 235.2 innings (including playoffs), and it’s fair to worry about his ability to hold up at that age.

“You’re always a little bit concerned as they put a little bit of age on themselves, but right now he looks good to us,” said Girardi to Hoch. Kuroda ran into a wall of fatigue in early-September last year, so much so that he stopped throwing his regular between-starts bullpen sessions. He told Hoch that he’s adjusted his offseason training program in an effort to stay fresher late in the season and is working closely with strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea. Whether it actually works remains to be seen.

Pettitte has always given off this vibe that no matter how much the odds are stacked against him, he’ll figure out a way to get the job done. He’s human and doesn’t always come through, but he’s built up enough good will throughout the years and earned everyone’s confidence. Kuroda gives off a similar vibe, at least to me, which is why I’m confident he’ll overcome that workload to again be a very effective starter for the Yankees in 2013. It’s possible he won’t, but it definitely would surprise me.

Marchand: Kuroda left money on the table to re-sign with Yankees

Via Andrew Marchand: Hiroki Kuroda turned down offers with multiple guaranteed years and/or more total money to re-sign with the Yankees for one-year and $15M earlier this week. The Dodgers, Red Sox, and Angels were among the clubs courting the veteran right-hander. Ken Rosenthal notes that Kuroda has signed four contracts in his MLB career, and he left money on the table each time. Most guys (understandably) take the biggest payday, but comfort has obviously been a major factor for Hiroki.

Yankees re-sign Hiroki Kuroda

(Elsa/Getty)

Last offseason the Yankees didn’t sign Hiroki Kuroda until mid-January. They didn’t wait that long this winter. Kuroda has officially signed a new contract with New York, the team announced. Buster Olney says it’s a one-year deal worth $15M plus incentives that total less than $1M. Pretty sweet deal.

“I am very happy and excited to re-sign with the Yankees,” said Kuroda in a statement. “I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me. It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season.”

Kuroda, 38 in February, pitched to a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) in a career-high 33 starts and 219.2 innings with the Yankees in 2012, his first season in pinstripes. He also tacked on two stellar postseason starts for good measure, bringing his season total to 235.2 innings. That workload is a bit of a concern heading into next year, but at the end of the day, bringing Kuroda back for a year was far too good to pass up.

The one-year contract works well for both sides. The Yankees are trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 and this deal won’t impact future payroll. It also limits risk stemming from that career-high workload. Kuroda maintains he will finish his playing career back in Japan, so he has the flexibility to go back home after the season. The Yankees made the right-hander a qualifying offer a few weeks ago and would have received draft pick compensation had he signed with a different MLB team.

With Kuroda back in the fold, the next order of business for Brian Cashman & Co. is to re-sign Mariano Rivera and hopefully do the same with Andy Pettitte should he decide to keep playing. Right field and catcher must also be addressed, but shoring up the rotation was a more pressing matter. The Yankees can now move forward with their offseason plan knowing they have a reliable innings guy to slot between CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes in the rotation.