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Kuroda works through early struggles to give Yankees a strong performance

05/01/2013 1:52 AM ET
By Joe Auriemma

Hiroki Kuroda tossed seven scoreless innings and struck out eight batters on Tuesday night.(AP)
NEW YORK -- In the Yankees' 5-3 win over Toronto on April 25, Hiroki Kuroda battled through his start. His first two innings were disastrous, allowing two big home runs, and nothing seemed to be working.

Rather than crumble under the pressure, Kuroda found an extra gear and went six strong innings to give the Yankees what they needed and earn the win.

The same was the case on Tuesday.

One night after the upstart Houston Astros hit Andy Pettitte hard, it seemed early on that Kuroda might suffer the same fate. The right-hander struggled to find any pitch that might work and uncharacteristically ran into trouble, with his pitch count rising in the process.

However, Kuroda prevented the Astros from capitalizing, holding them scoreless in the early frames.

"Today, like the last outing, my balance was off mechanically," Kuroda said after the game. "My release point was off, too, so it was a tough outing."

Then Kuroda found what he was looking for. With some sound advice from his pitching coach Larry Rothschild, he worked quicker and began dealing like the pitcher Yankees fans are used to seeing.

"In the middle of the game, Larry suggested to me that I start throwing from the stretch," Kuroda said. "That is actually something I don't like to do, but I followed his suggestion today."

"He went to the stretch all the time," said manager Joe Girardi. "He was in the stretch quickly anyway, so we thought it might simplify it a little bit and maybe he could get his stuff back. He started finding his sinker a little bit and started finding his slider a little bit and it just was a bit rough for him."

Kuroda's batterymate, Chris Stewart, began calling pitches that weren't working early on. Eventually, the sinker and slider allowed the right-hander to get out of the fourth throwing just six pitches. Kuroda's pitch count remained low and allowed him to stretch out his mastery performance.

"In the early innings, [the sinker and slider] were pretty useless, but after that, [Stewart] called a great game," Kuroda said.

What's most impressive about Kuroda's Yankees tenure has been his ability to work out of jams without showing any sort of frustration or emotion that might compound his problems. He just seems to thrive on battling and has become the model of consistency in the Yankees' rotation.

"He's just been around the game long enough where he keeps throwing enough where he knows his body and he knows how to make proper adjustments," Stewart said. "Some guys aren't able to feel what they're doing out there and really don't know how to correct it, but he's really good at doing what he needs to do to correct himself."

Kuroda was able to retire 14 of the last 15 batters he faced, stretching his spectacular outing to seven innings. He allowed no runs and left with a 4-0 lead.

The Yankees would go on to win the game, 7-4, thanks in part to the gutsy outing given to them by a starter that finished April 4-1. The one loss came in Kuroda's first outing, when he left the game after 1 1/3 innings having allowed two earned runs to the Red Sox.

Since that opening-game loss, he's gone 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA and opponents are hitting just .187 against him. His overall season ERA is down to 2.25.

Even on his worst nights, the Yankees know that Kuroda will fight for them and give them a reliable start. His Jekyll and Hyde outings usually end up more like Dr. Jekyll and less like Mr. Hyde. Ultimately, he has fully established himself as one of the best starters in not just the Yankees' rotation or the American League, but all of baseball.

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