First pitch: The new-look Hiroki Kuroda

June, 30, 2012
6/30/12
6:00
AM ET
AP Photo/Kathy WillensWhat has turned Hiroki Kuroda's season around? Keep reading.

If you’re going to pick out one thing to watch with Hiroki Kuroda this afternoon, check out what has made the biggest difference for him -- his performance against left-handed hitters.

Kuroda significantly struggled against lefties in his first two months in the Bronx. They hit .304 against him, with five home runs in 135 at-bats.

Remember the start against the Twins on April 18, when he got touched for a pair of home runs by Justin Morneau, or how he got punched around by Mike Moustakas and the Royals on May 21? Those are a distant memory.

In June, lefties have just one home run in 84 at-bats against him and they are whiffing with far greater frequency.

He’s struck out 21 of the 92 left-handers he’s faced in June, compared to 16 out of the 152 he struck out in April and May.

What’s made Kuroda a strikeout pitcher is that he’s found the success with his slider and split-fingered fastball that had eluded him.

Kuroda didn’t have control of either pitch in the first two months of the season, often throwing them down and away in areas that hitters were able to recognize were not close to being strikes.

He’s since moved those pitches closer to the outside corner of the plate, and hitters are swinging more often. That they’ve been able to do little with those swings (five hits, four walks, 30 outs, 15 by strikeout) is a testament to the nasty nature of those pitches.

One of the fears with Kuroda was that he would be susceptible to the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, but that has not been the case of late. Kuroda has allowed five home runs in 52 2/3 innings in the Bronx, and none in his past 25 1/3 innings there.

With the return to form of his splitter-slider combo, Kuroda has been much more of a ground-ball pitcher of late against left-handed hitters. He’s gone from a 51 percent ground-ball rate against them in April and May to 61 percent in June.

The White Sox likely will have a few lefties in the lineup today, but the matchup that will be most telling will be Kuroda versus left-handed hitting home-run threat Adam Dunn. The White Sox slugger is 3-for-8 with a home run and six walks against Kuroda, with four of those walks coming in 3-2 counts.

UP NOW: Derek Jeter passed Cal Ripken Jr. on the all-time hits list. Plus, Dewayne Wise's memorable debut and Adam Warren's forgettable one.

ON DECK: The one and only Wally Matthews will be piloting the coverage for today's 1 p.m. ET start. The starters will be Hiroki Kuroda (7-7, 3.40) vs. Jake Peavy (6-4, 2.84)

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which Kuroda will we see the rest of the season?

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .285
HRM. Teixeira 20
RBIJ. Ellsbury 62
RB. Gardner 78
OPSB. Gardner .774
ERAH. Kuroda 3.88
SOM. Tanaka 135