Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New York Yankees [Print without images]

Thursday, April 25, 2013
Notes: Kuroda's comeback

By Kieran Darcy

Hiroki Kuroda
Hiroki Kuroda came out dull on Thursday, but ended up sharp as a tack.
The way Hiroki Kuroda's night began Thursday, you figured he'd be hitting the showers early.

Instead, he stuck around long enough to earn his third win of the season.

Kuroda went six innings, giving up three runs on six hits -- but the performance was more impressive than that.

"It says a lot, because he really didn’t have a whole lot tonight," manager Joe Girardi said. "I don’t think he really threw a good slider until the last pitch in the third inning. And then he started to find it a little bit. But he didn’t have his sinker tonight. He didn’t have his good offspeed [stuff] for the most part."

It didn't take long for the Blue Jays to get on the board. Rajai Davis laced the second pitch of the game, a slider, into center field for a single. Munenori Kawasaki grounded into a double play, but then Jose Bautista walked and Edwin Encarnacion drove a ball into the left-field seats, giving Toronto a 2-0 lead.

Kuroda gave up two more line-drive singles in the first inning. And then Brett Lawrie led off the second inning with another home run, this one to right field, extending the lead to 3-0. Your eyes began to wander to the bullpen, to see if anyone was stirring.

"Early on all of my pitches weren’t there, especially my sinker," Kuroda said, through a translator.

But then, suddenly, Kuroda seemed to figure things out.

With a runner on second and two outs, he struck out Bautista to end the second inning. And over the next four frames, he retired 13 of 14 batters, allowing just one base runner -- and that was on an error by Lyle Overbay. Girardi went to the bullpen in the seventh inning, with Kuroda having thrown 103 pitches, but by then the Yankees had a 5-3 lead.

"I felt off in terms of my mechanics, so I was trying to fix it," Kuroda said. "And the other part obviously was to make sure to mentally be strong."

"I thought he really had to grind it out," Girardi said. "From a mental standpoint, he was really tough-minded tonight. Because a lot of nights when you don’t have your stuff you’re gonna give up more than three runs. And this is an offense that we know can hit the ball out of the ballpark. But he found a way."

After a strong first season with the Yankees last year (16-11, 3.32), Kuroda is off to another fine start -- 3-1, with a 2.79 ERA. He has won his last three decisions. His only loss came in the second game of the season, when he had to leave the game in the second inning after taking a line drive off his pitching hand.

Kuroda pitched a complete-game five-hit shutout against the Orioles 11 days ago. Yet Girardi said, "This might be his best performance of the year."

It certainly was a surprise, after the way the night began.

ALMOST PERFECT: The trio of relievers that Girardi used, unlike Kuroda, were thoroughly dominant. Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each pitched a scoreless inning to finish off the victory.

The only one who gave up a hit was Chamberlain, on a comebacker that deflected off his pitching hand. Chamberlain was OK, remained in the game, and retired the next three batters.

Rivera struck out two of the three batters he faced. The 43-year-old is now 7-for-7 in save opportunities to start the final season of his career.

POWER SURGE: On paper, the Yankees' lineup versus lefty Mark Buehrle looked pretty weak. Ben Francisco, batting .080, was second in the order. Francisco Cervelli was in the 5-hole, and the guys at No. 6 through No. 9 (Ichiro Suzuki, Eduardo Nunez, Overbay and Jayson Nix) were all batting .234 or worse.

Yet the Yankees had five runs on nine hits, including three home runs -- by Cervelli, Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells.

Wells has been a very pleasant surprise -- he's now batting .293, with six homers and 10 RBIs. And Nix was 2-for-3 with two singles -- his third multihit game in his last five games.

"It was good, especially after we got down 3-0," Girardi said. "Vernon got us on the board, and then Robby the big three-run homer, and we put some hits together, and then you get the homer by Cervy, the little tack-on. To score five runs, I thought our guys did a good job."