Friday, July 1, 2011 Updated: July 2, 11:24 AM ET
Hiroki Kuroda is right on target
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- One of the most unfortunate things about being a pitcher who doesn't get much run support is that when you pitch really well, no one really notices. Well, they notice enough to say, "That guy has pitched well enough to have a better record if he just got some run support." But not enough to say, "Man, that guy is dominating."
Man, on Friday night, Hiroki Kuroda was dominating. And finally, for once, the Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander got just enough run support to make everybody notice.
Especially the Los Angeles Angels, whom Kuroda vanquished in an all-too-rare, 5-0 victory by the Dodgers at Angel Stadium, before 41,253. And, maybe, especially the small gaggle of major league scouts who were seated in the lower-level stands behind home plate.
Before Friday, Hiroki Kuroda had not won in his previous seven starts despite a 2.12 ERA in the past five.
Kuroda entered with the longest active winless streak in the majors, having failed to record a win in any of his previous seven starts since May 17, and he had posted a 2.12 ERA over the five most recent of those starts, four of which ended with him tagged with the loss. Even so, he has rarely been as firmly in command as he was in this one. And with baseball's non-waiver trading deadline now less than a month away, Kuroda is piling up the kind of performances that tend to pique the interest of teams looking to bolster their starting rotations for the stretch drive.
The fact Kuroda is a potential free agent after the season would also figure to be intriguing to at least a handful of teams. The fact he has full no-trade rights wouldn't figure to dissuade them much, especially since Kuroda might return to his native Japan to pitch next season anyway, something he actually considered last winter before re-signing with the Dodgers for one year and $12 million plus incentives.
"At this point, I haven't heard anything,'' Kuroda said, with Kenji Nimura interpreting, on the subject of possibly being dealt at the deadline. "This is my fourth season with the Dodgers. I love my teammates, and I love this team. As far as I'm concerned, I would like to play for this team for the rest of the season."
That much is totally in Kuroda's control, of course, with the no-trade rights he secured in his new contract, something he didn't have in his first deal with the Dodgers, the three-year, $35.3 million deal. But the list is long of players who have had those rights and waived them for a chance to possibly compete for a championship.
Of course, for the Dodgers to start dumping veteran players like Kuroda at the trading deadline, general manager Ned Colletti would have to concede the club has no chance to claw its way back into contention. The last time we checked with him, earlier this week, Colletti wasn't ready to concede any such thing.
Still, if Kuroda is down to his final handful of starts with the Dodgers, he is making a memorable exit. He shut out the Angels on three hits over seven innings. After Hank Conger popped up to strand Howie Kendrick on third in the second inning, Kuroda gave up only one more hit the rest of the way, a harmless, two-out, ground-rule double by Peter Bourjos in the fifth. Kuroda threw 103 pitches, and manager Don Mattingly might have let him go longer if the weather hadn't been so hot -- Kuroda's uniform was soaked with sweat by the second inning.
Mattingly readily admitted that what he saw of Kuroda against the Angels really wasn't that different from what he has seen over Kuroda's past few starts -- it's just this one ended in a "W" for the veteran right-hander.
"He has kept us in every game," Mattingly said. "This guy has pitched well. He has been doing his job, and that is all, really, that you can ask these guys to do is keep it close. There is always somebody on a staff who doesn't get runs, and he has been that guy."
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There was one manager in the house who wasn't as enamored of Kuroda's performance as Mattingly was. The Angels' Mike Scioscia took exception with Kuroda's plunking of the next-to-last batter he faced, first baseman Mark Trumbo, in the seventh inning, resulting in both benches being warned. It was the fourth hit batsman of the game, two on each side.
"How many guys has he hit this year, in 100 innings?" Scioscia asked reporters, rhetorically and heatedly. "This is a guy who usually has pretty good command."
The answer to Scioscia's question is three in 108⅔ innings. Neither Kuroda (6-9) nor Mattingly wanted to comment in response to Scioscia's obvious charge, but the guess here is with two games left in this series, the issue might not be over yet.
Anyway, a few minutes before I learned of Scioscia's comments and presented them to Kuroda, someone in the crowd of reporters at his locker asked him whether the pitch that hit Trumbo and the one that hit Torii Hunter back in the second inning -- that one knocked Hunter out of the game because of a bruise on the top of his left hand, and he was taken for precautionary X-rays -- were "accidents?"
"They were all accidents," he said.
Everything else Kuroda threw, though, was pretty much right on target. The irony is that on an evening when he finally had a little margin for error, he wound up not needing it.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.