ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Hiroki Kuroda can only hope his in-person debut for Yankees fans goes better than his televised one.
Kuroda, scheduled to start the home opener against the Angels Friday, gave those who said his stuff wouldn't translate to the American League plenty of ammunition Saturday night in an 8-6 loss to the Rays before a crowd of 34,078 at Tropicana Field.
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"I wasn't sharp," said Kuroda, who allowed six runs (four earned), eight hits and four walks in 52/3 innings. "I really wish I could have continued what I had in spring training. It was really disappointing."
Despite taking an 8-2 lead into the ninth, the Rays had to use four relievers in the inning to close it out. Curtis Granderson tripled, Raul Ibanez lifted a sacrifice fly and Nick Swisher hit a three-run homer to bring the Yankees within 8-6. But Alex Rodriguez -- hitting against a shift, as just about half the Yankees' lineup has in this series, and representing the potential tying run -- grounded out as the damage done against Kuroda and Clay Rapada was too much to overcome.
"Keep hitting the ball hard, you'll find holes," said A-Rod, one of several hitters, including Mark Teixeira, who saw hits taken away because of a shift employed against them.
Kuroda, signed to a one-year, $10-million deal during the offseason after four productive seasons with the Dodgers and given the No. 2 rotation spot by Joe Girardi, didn't honor that position as the Yankees dropped to 0-2.
It will be up to Phil Hughes, whom the Yankees feel great about after a standout spring training, to help them avoid an 0-3 start Sunday against Jeremy Hellickson, last year's AL Rookie of the Year. "It's an important game, but we have a long, long ways to go," Girardi said. "We have 160 games left. If at any point of the season you make too much out of two games, you're going to wear yourself out pretty quickly mentally."
Kuroda could have put Yankees fans skeptical of his signing at ease, but with a significant assist from Eduardo Nunez, he instead put the Yankees in an insurmountable hole. Nunez, who led the team with 20 errors last season, booted Desmond Jennings' routine grounder, leading to two unearned runs in the first.
"I don't think my rhythm was broken because of the error," Kuroda said. "If you're a professional pitcher, you have to keep the game close no matter what happens, and I wasn't able to do that today."
Carlos Pena's two-out single in the second drove in Jose Lobaton, who doubled to lead off the inning. Joyce made it 4-0 in the third, slamming a curveball over the wall in right.
The Yankees broke through against David Price with two outs in the fourth. Granderson beat the shift with a line-drive single into the rightfield corner, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Andruw Jones' line-drive single to left. Nunez's RBI single later in the inning made it 4-2.
Luke Scott's RBI double and Jennings' RBI single off Kuroda made it 6-2 in the sixth, and the Rays scored twice in the seventh for an 8-2 lead. Joyce singled home two runs off Rapada after an apparent two-run homer down the rightfield line by Evan Longoria was ruled a double because of fan interference.
"It's early," Swisher said of the 0-2 start. "I can understand [some angst] because of the expectations coming in. I feel we have a great team, but we have to come out tomorrow and start proving it."