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Saturday, April 7, 2012
First Pitch: Hiroki's turn




After a solid spring, Hiroki Kuroda makes his Yankees debut tonight against the Rays, and it will be interesting to see how his stuff, so effective in the NL West, translates to the AL East.

Kuroda pitched well in his three years for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but due to lack of run support didn't have a lot to show for it. His record in L.A. was mediocre -- 41-46 -- but his ERA was an impressive 3.45, and from what he showed in the spring, Kuroda is a solid pro with an impressive repertoire of four pitches, none of which he is reluctant to throw to any hitter at any time in the count.

Obviously, he will benefit greatly from the Yankees' offense, but at the same time, he faces a stiff challenge from the deeper American League lineups, which give a pitcher no respite. And at 37 years old, any pitcher's stamina will be suspect.

Still, Kuroda is a pitcher the Yankees, and especially GM Brian Cashman, have coveted for a long time. In fact, in the winter, when a lot of top-shelf, free-agent pitchers were still on the market but it appeared Hal Steinbrenner had put a cap on the team payroll, Cashman told me that if Hal freed up some money, the only pitcher he would spend it on was Kuroda.

So now, Cashman has what he wanted. Kuroda is here, on a relatively affordable one-year, $10 million deal. And he was anointed the Yankees' No. 2 starter before he had even thrown a pitch this spring, simply on the basis of his maturity, his experience and his reputation.

Today, we begin to find out if Cashman's belief in Kuroda was justified. And we also begin to find out if this year's starting rotation is really better than last year's.

CC Sabathia had a subpar spring and was shaky in his Opening Day start, although he came away with a no-decision. Michael Pineda is on the DL, there are still questions about Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, and Steady Freddy Garcia is a stopgap, the No. 5 starter.

Kuroda could be the linchpin to the entire rotation. If he performs as expected, it relieves some of the burden on the young starters and even on Sabathia. We won't get the answer today, just the first of what will undoubtedly be many clues.

The Question: How many wins do you think Kuroda will be good for this season? More than A.J. Burnett's 11 last year? As many as Nova's 16? Or can he challenge Sabathia for the team lead? Let us know.

Up now: Ian O'Connor's column on Mariano Rivera -- is this the beginning of the end? -- is a must-read, as always. I've got a column up on the still-developing but highly entertaining Yankees-Rays rivalry, as well as blog stuff from Friday's game. And Katie Sharp, one of our stats mavens, has a piece exploring the Yankeemetrics from the 7-6 Opening day loss.

On-deck circle: Clubhouse opens at 3:40 p.m. for tonight's game (first pitch, 7:10). I'll be in the room when the door opens, as well as at the manager's pregame scrum. I'll have the lineup as soon as he lets us know, but it looks as if either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez will be tonight's DH against David Price and Eduardo Nuñez will get his first start of the season. Thanks for reading and check in early and often.