Kuroda showing grace under pressureVeteran’s professional approach stabilizes Yankees rotation
Consummate professional. Hard worker. Veteran leader. Solid starter.
These are all characteristics that describe Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. His approach to his craft is impressive. He is all business when it comes to his passion, baseball.
These traits and Kuroda’s love for the game all stem from the fact that his father, Kazuhiro Kuroda, was also a ballplayer in his native Japan. By the time Hiroki was 21, he was ready to continue in the family business of professional baseball when he was drafted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Kuroda’s career with Hiroshima may have started out slow, but by the time 2001 rolled around, he became the team’s full-fledged ace. In Japan, Kuroda was known as the “Giant Killer,” pitching lights out against the league's premier team, the Yomiuri Giants. With little run support throughout his career in Japan, he never won more than 15 games, but did impress with a 1.86 ERA in 189 innings pitched in 2006. Overall, Kuroda won 103 games for the Carp in 11 seasons before finally coming over to play baseball in the United States for the Dodgers.
Kuroda's time in Japan certainly taught him the valuable lessons of pitching under pressure, and how to be regimented, prepared, and ready before each of his starts. In making the transition to the Major Leagues in 2008, Kuroda brought over an array of pitches. Each pitch showcased changes in speed and a lot of movement that made him one of the hardest pitchers in the National League to game plan against.
All of this buildup leads to the Yankees signing Kuroda before the 2012 season. He may be 37 years old now, and may not throw the 97 MPH fastball he once threw, but he still has one intangible: he can still pitch very effectively, even in the vaunted American League East.
After a rough first start against the Rays, Kuroda was given the task of pitching in the home opener. As Yankees fans know, that is a special day around New York and there is quite a bit of pressure on the Bombers to start the season off right with a win...and that day, Kuroda’s hard work, years of experience, dedication to the game, and ability to handle pressure were all on display against the Angels.
Kuroda masterfully pitched into the ninth inning. While he officially only threw eight scoreless, he left to a standing ovation from a Yankee Stadium crowd that appreciated the effort.
“I was very excited. I was emotional at the same time and I'm very appreciative of the fans,” Kuroda said through his translator Kenji Nimura. Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild agreed that it was important to Kuroda to pitch the way he did on Opening Day.
“Well it was nice to see him go out and pitch well in the opener, so that people can see what he's capable of,” he said.
The bottom line is that Kuroda can flat out pitch, and what everyone saw from him on Opening Day might be just the tip of the iceberg of his potential with quality run support here in New York. His professionalism and businesslike approach will also be terrific assets in the clubhouse, especially in relating to some of the younger pitchers on the team. And, the language barrier will not stand in the way of a lead-by-example situation.
“He knows how to pitch and he's going to compete throughout a game,” Rothschild said. “You pretty much know what you are going to get day in and day out, which is nice. He can pitch to a game plan and he's got good movement on his fastball.”
Kuroda's ability to not easily get rattled is a key component for any pitcher wanting to come to New York. In any situation, whether it's a game against the Twins in April, a key start during the Pennant race in August or September, or a high-pressure postseason game in October, the Yankees will be getting the same even-keeled pitcher. It's all about experience, and he has gained that experience pitching in Japan, Los Angeles, and now New York.
“Obviously you hear a lot of hype about pitching here in Yankee Stadium,” Kuroda said. “I talked to a lot of people and they told me a lot of things about this stadium. At the same time I try and have the same approach no matter where, no matter where or when I pitch. Whether it's a Spring Training game or an official game, in Yankee Stadium or a stadium in Japan, I try to have the same approach every time I go out on the mound.”
Kuroda did not shy away from New York and it wasn't all about the big pay day to come here. He embraced the challenge and wanted to sign with the Yankees in the offseason. His ultimate goal is to win a championship and is very serious about that goal.
“I came to the Yankees because I wanted to win a championship,” Kuroda said. “I by myself can't win a championship. It's a team effort, so whatever I can do to contribute so that we'll go to the World Series in October, that's my goal for the season.”
Kuroda's goal may or may not be fulfilled by the time October rolls around, but the Yankees have a much better chance with him in the rotation to reach the ultimate end game in 2012.
Follow Joe Auriemma on Twitter: @JoeAuriemmaYES
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