Any Yankees victory over the Los Angeles Angels is sweet, but this afternoon’s 5-0 win was particularly sweet. No sooner did Albert Pujols say, in effect, that Opening Day at Yankee Stadium was “no big deal,” Hiroki Kuroda went out and made a big deal out of it: 8 innings, 5 hits, 6 Ks, ZERO runs.
Kuroda — age 27 and the latest National Leaguer to join the Yankees staff — was regarded by many as the wild card in the rotation. Now, with C.C. Sabathia battling his weight, Michael Pineda out with inflammation of a shoulder tendon, Andy Pettitte warming up in the minors, and Phil Hughes wondering if his bright future is behind him, Kuroda looks like a treasure. And if he can pitch consistently close to the standard he set this afternoon, he’ll be much more than a wild card: he’ll be one of the aces.
The Yankees don’t often make shrewd deals for pitchers, but somebody
did their homework on Hiroki. Though he was just 41-47 over four
seasons with the Dodgers, his 3.47 ERA was excellent. Over the last two
seasons his ERA — 3.07 in 2011 and 3.39 in 2010 — would have resulted
in fine won-loss totals if he’d had the kind of support that the
Yanks catcher Russell Martin, who caught Kuroda regularly in LA,
calls him “a great teammate, a great guy.” That’s nice, but from the
point of view of Yankees fans, what’s important is that he mixes up four
good pitches: a fastball that doesn’t get much above 92 mph but is
sneaky, a splitter, and a pretty good curve. Okay, that’s only three,
but he can also throw a mean cut-fastball, which is especially effective
against left-handed hitters. He also has a 2-seamer which, when he gets it under
control, Martin thinks “might be his best pitch. He’s mastered these
pitches with greater efficiency than he ever did in LA. He might be
pitching the best ball of his career.”
Perhaps most important is that Kuroda, who doesn’t talk much even
through an interpreter, seems to want to play in New York, the way
Hidecki Matsui did. We’re all tired of National Leaguers who come here
and wilt under media scrutiny, claiming that, somehow, it was the DH
they couldn’t get used to or the umpires’ different strike zones, or
some such horseshit. Kuroda just goes out and pitches.