Commentary

Cue the call for Yu? Not quite

Sure Darvish looked good, but let's not overreact about Hiroki Kuroda just yet

Updated: March 7, 2012, 8:49 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA -- All together now: We shoulda got YU DARVISH!!!!!

You know that will be the reaction following Hiroki Kuroda's Yankees debut on Wednesday, in which he allowed three hits and three runs in a 4-0 loss to the Rays, the Yankees' third straight loss of the preseason.

Meanwhile, in Scottsdale, Darvish, the 25-year-old Japanese phenom the Yankees decided not to bid on, impressed his new Texas Rangers teammates with two scoreless innings and three strikeouts against the San Diego Padres.

Which only goes to prove once again that there is no overreaction like a New York overreaction, especially when it comes to the Yankees.

On Monday, Michael Pineda made what looked like a successful Yankee debut against the Phillies, throwing two scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit and struck out two.

Hiroka Kuroda
Masterpress/Getty ImagesHiroki Kuroda wasn't as bad as his line suggested on Wednesday.

That is, until the Highway Patrol reported that Pineda's fastball topped out at a mere 91 mph on the radar gun. That, coupled with Pineda's admission on the first day of camp that he was about 10 pounds overweight, started all sorts of panic, along the lines of, "We gave up Jesus Montero for this?"

Two innings into his Yankees career, it all added up to one inescapable conclusion: Pineda was a guaranteed bust.

Now comes Kuroda, the "other" Japanese pitcher, the one who cost just $10 million and one year, getting lit up -- well, not exactly, but more on that later -- while Darvish, who cost $107 million and six years, was shutting down the Padres.

Cue the wailing wall.

The truth is, Kuroda wasn't nearly as bad as his line looks -- he basically came undone on one ineffective and ill-advised pitch -- and the odds are his wide repertoire of pitches and calm veteran demeanor will play just fine in the Bronx once this spring training exercise is out of the way.

In fact, there's no reason to get all in a tizzy about any of the Yankees' starters now that we've been through the rotation once.

True, the numbers are not pretty. Combined, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes and now Kuroda, have thrown a total of 11 1/3 innings, allowed eight earned runs, struck out 10 and allowed 17 hits. Their cumulative record is 0-2, their ERA 6.35.

Happily, they haven't walked anyone.

And guess what? There still is only one rotation spot that isn't spoken for, and that is the least important one of all, the last one. The one Garcia and Hughes are fighting for.

So before the panic sets in regarding Kuroda's first outing as a Yankee, remember this: Spring training is for preparing for the season, not winning the World Series.

And pitching in preseason is as much about winning games as sparring is about knocking out your sparring partners.

So forget all the silliness about Pineda's alleged "lo V-Lo" and Hughes' bad location and Freddy's hittability and, now, Kuroda's one bad inning against the Rays.

This rotation, and in fact this roster, is pretty much set, from 1 to 24, with perhaps one spot open for a second left-handed reliever if one can distinguish himself, and so far none has.

But as Joe Girardi proclaimed before a pitch was even thrown, Sabathia is the ace (duh), Kuroda is the No. 2 and the rest of them will sort this thing out between now and Opening Day.

Kuroda's line was ugly on Wednesday, but it really all came down to one backdoor slider he wanted throw to Stephen Vogt, against the advice of his catcher, Russell Martin, that got smacked down the right-field line for a two-run triple in the second inning.

After pitching a swift and dominant first inning, Kuroda had allowed a leadoff single to Matt Joyce and then was victimized by the Rays' running style of play. Manager Joe Maddon sent Joyce, which caused Derek Jeter to break toward second, pulling him out of position for Jeff Keppinger's grounder to the hole in the left side of the infield. Jeter got back in time to snag it but was unable to execute his patented jump throw and the infield hit gave the Rays two on with none out.

Vogt's shot was smoked, and he came on to score the third run on an infield out. That was it; Kuroda got a groundout and a strikeout to end the inning, and his day.

And 7,000 miles away, millions of Japanese baseball fans who had gotten out of bed to watch him pitch at 3 a.m. local time no doubt rolled over and went back to sleep.

As should you.

The fact is, nothing was much help to the Yankees on Wednesday, beginning with a motivational speaker hired by Girardi to break bats over his knee and rip telephone books in half in the clubhouse as a way to inspire his team to believe in itself.

Instead, Girardi should have sent the guy to the other clubhouse to break the Rays' bats.

But so what? Barring a major injury to any of the significant figures on this team, nothing of real importance is going to happen here until the season opens against the Rays in St. Petersburg on April 6.

Sabathia will start that game. Kuroda will start the next one. Either Nova or Pineda will start the third one. And, as the manager likes to say, we'll go from there.

Kuroda, a 37-year-old veteran who pitched 11 seasons for the Hiroshima Carp of Japan's Central League and four more for the Dodgers before joining the Yankees as a free-agent this winter, was hardly perturbed by his outing.

"It's always important to leave with good results, but at the same time I wanted to work on my pitches and I think I was able to accomplish that today," said Kuroda, whose repertoire includes five pitches -- fastball, cutter, splitter, curve and the backdoor slider that got him in trouble with Vogt.

"I wanted to show them I have this kind of pitch, especially to a left-handed hitter," Kuroda said. "But it didn't turn out to be a pitch that I wanted to throw. I just didn't locate the pitch very well."

Kuroda said all the right things about being disappointed in his first showing as a Yankee and how neither his teammates nor the fans have seen the real Hiroki yet, and how he is sure he will do better once the season begins.

But the underlying message was one many fans seem unable to grasp: That on a team like the Yankees, where the jobs are mostly spoken for and no one can realistically hope to play himself on -- or off -- the team at this point, spring training is exactly what the name implies.

Training time. Time to get in game shape, time to refine repertoires, sharpen swings, hone timing and try things out. Like having a guy come in and bust bats as part of the pregame entertainment.

Once the games start for real, it will be Kuroda's job -- and Sabathia's and Nova's and Pineda's and, most of all, Mariano Rivera's -- to bust some bats.

If they're not doing it when it counts, that's when it's time to start worrying. And not a moment sooner.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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