Hiroki Kuroda looking like best in rotation

Hiroki Kuroda pitches against the Red Sox. (Aug. Hiroki Kuroda pitches against the Red Sox. (Aug. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Not everyone was sure what the Yankees were getting when they signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year free agent deal in January.

Many thought Kuroda couldn't make the transition from the pitcher-friendly National League, where he spent the last four years with the Dodgers, to the American League.

No one thinks that now. In a season where the Yankees have had to find replacements for starters CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, Kuroda has evolved into the team's most reliable starter.

Sunday night, he picked up his 12th win of the season, outdueling a beleaguered Josh Beckett as the Yankees took the final game of their three-game series against the Red Sox, 4-1.

The win came hard on the heels of Kuroda's remarkable 3-0 win last week over the Texas Rangers. Against a powerful Rangers lineup, Kuroda had a no-hitter going through six innings. His composure and control so impressed Yankees manager Joe Girardi that he declared after the game that reporters had just witnessed "probably our best pitching performance this year."

Sunday night, he continued to marvel at his righthander.

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"He's been on a tremendous roll for us," Girardi said. "Man, he's been good."

It was Kuroda's ninth win in his last 11 games. In his last four starts in the Bronx, Kuroda has allowed just four runs.

Sunday night, the only thing that kept him from scoring back-to-back shutouts was one bad pitch, which Adrian Gonzalez converted into a solo home run when he launched it into rightfield in the seventh inning. All told, Kuroda gave up four hits, had four strikeouts and did not give up a walk in eight innings.

"Kuroda was really tough on us," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "He was throwing power stuff up and we were late on it most of the night. We just never got him out of his rhythm and he had good stuff."

What makes the fact that Kuroda has become the Yankees' steadiest starter even more impressive was how unimpressive his first couple of months with the team were. Kuroda got off to an ugly start as a Yankee. He was 3-6 in his first nine starts, posting an ERA of 4.56.

Things suddenly changed for him on May 27 in Oakland, when he gave up just four hits in eight innings for a 2-0 win. Suddenly, the Yankees $10-million free agent investment was looking like it would pay off.

Said Pettitte: "Man, he's been big for us. To have someone be as consistent as he's been and as strong. He's been great."

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