Hiroki Kuroda says he has something to prove

Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, of Japan, throws

Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, of Japan, throws in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays. (March 7, 2012) (Credit: AP)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Girardi's guarantee was nice to hear but ultimately meaningless to Hiroki Kuroda.

"When I was in Japan and also when I came here, I don't think I spent a season or spring training without worrying if I will make a rotation," Kuroda said Wednesday after allowing three runs in two innings in his spring debut, a 4-0 loss to the Rays at Steinbrenner Field. "Even if he said something like that, I don't think it's guaranteed. And I'm always competitive and I'm always competing for my spot."

As camp began, Girardi said that veterans Kuroda and CC Sabathia were the only pitchers assured of making the rotation, leaving Michael Pineda, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia to fight it out for the other three spots.

The 37-year-old Kuroda, who signed a one-year deal with the Yankees after going 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in four seasons with the Dodgers, sees it differently.

"They haven't seen me throughout the season and they don't know what kind of pitcher I am," Kuroda said through his translator, Kenji Nimura. "I think I have to prove something to everyone."

Kuroda is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.07 ERA but went 13-16 because of little offensive support. The Yankees signed him because they know precisely the kind of pitcher he is -- an unflappable one with what Girardi called "the kitchen sink" of a repertoire that includes a fastball, curveball, slider and splitter.

"He really seems to know what he wants to do," Girardi said. "I really like his split."

Girardi also likes that Kuroda, spot assured, still believes he must perform, a trait the manager said he's seen in other players from Japan, including former Yankee Hideki Matsui.

"I think he wants to prove his value to his teammates, to the organization," Girardi said. "I think there's some pressure when a Japanese-born player comes over to play here [in the U.S.]. I think they feel a responsibility to really represent their country. I think he's always been about proving he belongs here."

Kuroda struck out the first batter he faced, Reid Brignac, on an 0-and-2 splitter and needed just nine pitches in a 1-2-3 inning. Kuroda allowed three runs in the second, two of them coming when Stephen Vogt tripled into the rightfield corner.

"Russell [Martin] was asking for another pitch but I wanted to throw a backdoor slider and I just didn't locate the pitch really well," Kuroda said.

Although he said that he was disappointed in allowing runs Wednesday, Kuroda also said his primary goal in any initial start of the spring is getting to work on every pitch.

"My plan was to throw all my pitches today and I think I threw some really good ones," he said.

But the nature of spring games -- meaning that they don't count -- allowed him to feel comfortable shaking off Martin with the lefthanded-hitting Vogt at the plate because "I want to show them [lefties] I have that pitch."

Much has been made about Kuroda's transition to the American League, something that doesn't concern the righthander. The general feeling among scouts is Kuroda's ERA likely will increase a bit in the AL but not dramatically.

"[He's] a professional who knows what he's doing and can throw strikes," one said.

Kuroda said this year will be different but not necessarily a bigger challenge.

"Of course it's a big challenge but every year there's a challenge for me in some form," he said. "I think this is an added challenge, but this isn't something new."

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