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Hiroki Kuroda provides a big lift in shutting down the Baltimore Orioles

04/15/2013 12:00 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Francisco Cervelli and Hiroki Kuroda celebrate the latter's fabulous 3-0, complete-game shutout of the Orioles.(AP)
Well before Hiroki Kuroda stood on Yankee Stadium's mound on a chilly April Sunday night to face the Baltimore Orioles, the last two times he was on a pitching rubber weighed heavily on his mind. Kuroda stewed over being hit in the middle finger by a line drive, curtailing the first start of his sixth season in Major League Baseball. During his second start, the Cleveland Indians showed what can happen when Kuroda (three runs on five hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings pitched) is off.  

"Obviously, I wasn't able to get off to a good start to the season, so I didn't really feel good about it," Kuroda said. "For today, I think it went well, but it's just today. I'm just going to prepare for the next start."

On Sunday night, Kuroda showed the Orioles and the rest of baseball how good he is when he's on. The New York Yankees' right-hander struck out four and walked nobody in a dynamic complete-game performance that lifted the Yankees back over .500 at 6-5. The underbelly of New York's starting rotation had taken body blows the prior few days with Phil Hughes not having it on Saturday and Andy Pettitte's scheduled start pushed all the way to next weekend in Toronto due to back spasms.

Leave it to "Hiro" to give the Yankees what they needed as precisely the right time that left the Yankees enjoying an off day filled with optimism. What will sustain Yankees all season, even after their depleted offense welcomes back Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and (hopefully) Alex Rodriguez, is their starting pitching. CC Sabathia (2-1, 2.25), the ace, comes off allowing only and earned run and striking out nine in eight innings against Baltimore last Friday. Despite his back woes, Pettitte's 18th season is off to an excellent beginning (2-0, 1.20).

Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte are 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA, proving the Yankees' top three can match anyone in the game.

"We pitched pretty well in this series," said manager Joe Girardi. "You look at what CC did, you look at what Hiroki did, I mean, they threw extremely well. We have to win these types of games."

What Kuroda did was pitch a five-hitter for his fifth Major League shutout, allowing two hits over his final 23 batters faced and one over his last 17, and recording 18 ground-ball outs. He authored the first complete-game shutout by a Yankee in the Bronx without a walk since David Wells on April 10, 2003 and the first at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles since Mike Mussina's 7-0 victory on September 28, 2001.

Even at 99 pitches entering the ninth, Girardi didn't think twice about sending Kuroda out to finish the job in full. It wasn't until that ninth inning that an Orioles base runner reached second- due to an error. Kuroda was that good.

Against the lefties, as well as the righties, I was able to throw my sinkers with precision," Kuroda said. "Basically, the movement and what the catcher says and how they react to it. Today especially, Cervi (catcher Francisco Cervelli) had great game calling. I just followed his lead."

''He kept his pitch count down, that's why I kept running him out there.'' Girardi said. ''I think he's got outstanding command and he really knows how to pitch.''

Knowing how to pitch has been the familiar refrain when discussing Kuroda, who's 18-12, 3.29 as a Yankee while eliminating any doubt over his ability to compete in the American League and the rugged AL East. Even after the offense is reloaded, even if Hughes gets untracked to give the Yankees a one-two-three-four punch, the work rate of the veteran arms won't be lightened by that much. It may be early, but Kuroda, the consummate professional, proved more than capable of carrying his weight.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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