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Kuroda proving he's one of baseball's best

05/17/2013 11:41 PM ET
By Joe Auriemma

Hiroki Kuroda is emerging from CC Sabathia's shadow as one of the best in the sport.(AP)
Hiroki Kuroda is under the radar no more. Overshadowed by the Yankees ace CC Sabathia, dismissed after a mediocre start to the 2012 season -- his first in pinstripes -- Kuroda is officially one of the elite pitchers in all of baseball. Once again, the Yankees needed a win after two straight home losses and they called upon their second ace to stop the bleeding and once again he delivered. The most impressive part of the Yankees' 5-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Friday night is the fact that the Yankees have still not lost three games in a row this season and that's because of the efforts of Kuroda and company.

Kuroda always brings his A-game when facing the Toronto Blue Jays, but lately it's been against more than just those Jays, it's everyone. What's amazing about this current streak that he is on is that it started against the Jays last July 18. Up to that point in his young Yankees career, Kuroda was 8-7 with a 3.67 ERA and opponents were hitting .256 against him. Since that rain-shortened seven inning shutout, Kuroda over his last 24 starts is 14-6 with a 2.60 ERA, walking only 32, striking over 117 and opponents are hitting a mere .228 against him. Just as a comparison to the staff ace Sabathia, over his last 24 starts he is 11-6 with a 3.13 ERA and while he's striking out more -- 159 over 167 innings -- opponents are hitting .238 against him.

Kuroda has proven that his name belongs right there with Sabathia, and for many parts of this impressive stretch, he's been the more reliable pitcher. There is no diminishing what Sabathia does for this team, but Kuroda deserves his due.

"He's been so good for us," Joe Girardi said. "Just the innings he's giving you and he's giving the bullpen lot of times a night off where you can use them in other games. Quality starts that he's given us. He's been outstanding. The way he left us last year, he's just picked right up and continued to impress us."

Since Kuroda's first two starts of the season, he has easily been one of, if not the best starter not just on the Yankees, but in the American League. In his last seven outings, he is 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA with a .181 batting average against. He has just been the model of consistancy and it seems that when he takes the mound there should be a confidence that even if he doesn't have his best stuff, that he will at least battle through and give a solid performance; something most staff aces are accustomed to doing.

On Friday night in the Bronx, stuff was not an issue at all. He had everything working for him. After giving up a leadoff double to Melky Cabrera, he settled in and immediately struck out Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and then induced J.P. Arencibia into the line out to end what was the Jays only threat against him all evening. In fact, their next hit against him would come in the seventh when Encarnacion stroked a single and that was it. Eight brilliant innings and two hits allowed.

"He had a very good fastball, a very slider and a very good split and you get some swings and misses on the splits," Girardi said. "It was just really, really good."

Kuroda only got into trouble in the first, but by stranding Cabrera at second, he continued his hitless streak with runners in scoring position. Opponents are 0-for-their-last-25 against him in those situations and only 2-for-30 on the season. He has also started and won seven of the Yankees' 13 shutouts since the beginning of the 2012 season.

"I felt good all along especially early in the first inning when I struck out Bautista and Encarnacion," Kuroda said after the game. "That kind of put me into a good position."

He and Sabathia are neck and neck this season in innings pitched with Kuroda at 58 2/3 innings and Sabathia at 59 1/3. They are innings eaters and exactly what the Yankees need at the top of their rotation. These stats and numbers can do all of the talking all day, but to watch this man every five days has now become an event. He is officially a force and should be talked about from now on.

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