Needing length, Yanks get gem from Kuroda

Needing length, Yanks get gem from Kuroda

Needing length, Yanks get gem from Kuroda
NEW YORK -- The adjustment period has long since ended for Hiroki Kuroda, and Saturday was just another opportunity to take notice.

Inconsistencies plagued the start to Kuroda's tenure in pinstripes until 104 pitches got the right-hander through eight scoreless innings on May 27 in Oakland. Since then, the first-year Yankee has been worth every bit of the $10 million he will earn, and 46,895 fans at Yankee Stadium on Saturday saw just how effective he can be in a 4-0 win over the White Sox.

"I really think it was just the adjustment of coming over here," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Kuroda's early-season struggles. "I think sometimes when free agents come over here, they try to hard to validate things. I think he got over that after the first month and realized, 'You know what? I just have to go out and pitch and do what I do.' For some guys, it takes a month. Some guys, I've seen it take a year. Some guys don't ever get over it."

Kuroda clearly has.

The right-hander threw seven stellar innings to earn his fifth win in his past seven starts. He has a 1.65 ERA over that stretch, which includes all of June and his May start in Oakland, and in that span, Kuroda threw fewer than seven innings in a start only once. The right-hander tied a career high with 11 strikeouts against Chicago, bringing his total to 44 in his past 49 innings. He has walked 11 in that stretch.

"I think I've been really aggressive lately," said Kuroda, who spent his first four seasons in the National League, with the Dodgers. "Earlier in the season, I was facing a lot of hitters that I hadn't faced before, so I tried to be careful to hit those corners and I got behind in the count many times. Now, I try to be as aggressive as possible."

Doing so was easier with a lead, which Curtis Granderson provided in the first inning when he sent the second pitch he saw from Jake Peavy into the second deck in right field.

It was the only run Kuroda needed, but the Yankees' offense provided more.

They scattered four runs across Peavy's eight-inning complete game, while Kuroda mowed through the Chicago lineup before turning it over to the back end of a bullpen desperately in need of a day to rest. Kuroda had runners on the corners in the first inning but escaped by striking out Alex Rios, setting off a stretch of 15 consecutive batters retired. By the time that run ended with a 94-mph fastball off Kevin Youkilis' left elbow, Kuroda had a three-run lead.

Three of the Yankees' runs came via the long ball, including one from Dewayne Wise, who had a career-high three hits -- including his second homer of the week and an RBI double -- to cap a week that saw him go 7-for-11 at the plate, make a leaping non-catch into the left-field stands and record two outs on the mound.

"They have a great advantage here to pull the ball," Peavy said. "When they hit the ball in the air, it's a home run. That's what they do. The Yankees are a great team. That lineup, from top to bottom, when you get contributions from the bottom from guys like Dewayne Wise stepping in and having a big day, that's an awfully tough lineup."

But seemingly no one is tougher to get out right now than Robinson Cano, perhaps the only Yankees player more disappointed than Kuroda to see June end. The second baseman finished the month with 11 home runs -- a career high for a calendar month -- 21 runs scored, 21 RBIs and a .340 average.

"You want to hit your homers and your RBIs," Cano said, "but you really want your team to win the games."

The Yankees did just that, winning 20 games in a calendar month for the first time since August 2009. It started with dominant pitching, as every Yankees starter lasted at least six innings for the month's first 17 games.

But a rotation that appeared invincible two weeks ago looked very human in the past week, when left-handers CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte landed on the disabled list. Girardi stressed in the aftermath that he could not ask any more of Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova; they could only be themselves.

Kuroda was himself on Saturday, in complete control.

"I don't think my thought process has changed that much," Kuroda said. "The only thing I can do is concentrate on one hitter at a time and be very aggressive, and that's what I've been doing."

Steven Miller is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.