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Monday, April 15, 2013
Hiroki Kuroda, the professional

By Andrew Marchand

Kuroda
Hiroki Kuroda improved to 2-1 with a stellar shutout performance against the O's at Yankee Stadium.
The Baltimore Orioles not only could not score on Hiroki Kuroda, they couldn't even get to second base.

Well, they finally reached second with two outs in the ninth, but that was only because of an error and a fielder's choice.

It didn't matter, though, with the stuff Kuroda had on another frigid night in the Bronx.

Kuroda ended the game by making one of the hottest hitters in baseball, Chris Davis, look suddenly helpless as he flailed at a Kuroda's 113th pitch, an 85-mph slider.

It topped off Kuroda and the New York Yankees' 3-0 win over the Orioles on Sunday.

"He's such a professional," said Brett Gardner, who hit a towering two-run homer in the Yankees' three-run fifth.

With Kuroda on the mound, Gardner had plenty of time to think about his hitting. Of Kuroda's 27 outs, 18 were on ground balls and five were on strikeouts.

"You don't have to do a lot of work in the outfield," Gardner said with admiration.

Kuroda kept the Orioles as off-balance as The Iron Sheik's Twitter feed. It was sinker/slider/split all night and the Orioles were swinging early and not connecting squarely often.

Hiroki Kuroda
Hiroki Kuroda didn't allow a runner in scoring position until the ninth.
CC Sabathia is the clear ace of the Yankees' staff, but Kuroda has earned the No. 2 spot. With Andy Pettitte off to a strong start, it makes you wonder if the Yankees can sneak into playoffs this October, could their pitching lead them to a parade?

There are 151 games to go before we are there, but the Yankees (6-5) know they must win a series like they did against the Orioles (6-6). The Yankees scored a total of 11 runs (five, three and three) in the three games and came away with two wins. That's how they are going to play it, at least in the short-term, because despite the powerful start the Yankees' lineup has a lot less "mystique" and "aura" and a lot more "Punch and Judy."

"You have to win all kinds of games because you can't expect your offense to give you seven every night," Girardi said.

Kuroda is a guy who can win those types of games; especially in the Bronx. In 21 career starts at Yankee Stadium, he is now 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA.

Since the start of the 2012 season, the Yankees have thrown three shutouts and all have been authored by Kuroda.

"It is fun to catch that guy," Francisco Cervelli said. "It's great because he is able to throw every pitch whenever he wants to the place he wants. His plan for everybody is amazing."

Kuroda, 38, is so focused he doesn't pay much attention to anything except each pitching. Until a reporter told him afterward, he didn't even realize the Orioles didn't have any runners in scoring position until two outs in the ninth.

"I just learned it right now," Kuroda said.

The beauty of Kuroda's game -- when he is on, and he usually is -- is that he is so precise. He doesn't beat himself because he can regularly put the ball in the exact spot he wants.

As consistent as Kuroda is, even for him he was in rare form Sunday night. He became the first Yankees starter to throw a nine-inning shutout without a walk since David Wells a decade ago.

The Yankees can try to survive until the offensive cavalry returns. When Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and maybe even Alex Rodriguez come back, the offense figures to improve.

But if the Yankees are going to advance anywhere in 2013, it is going to be in large part because of Kuroda, the pro's pro.