You have to wonder if Hiroki Kuroda isn't a little bit like the lightning streaking across the Yankees' tarp-covered field Wednesday afternoon. He's been often surprising, sometimes powerful, and, in his two previous starts against the Angels and the Red Sox, frustratingly fleeting.
So which one was it going to be against the Blue Jays? The pitcher who showed signs of brilliance while helping anchor a rotation that was missing Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia? Or the other guy? The one who was shellacked the last time he faced the Blue Jays, and gave up a total of 11 runs and 18 hits in his previous two starts, both no-decisions.
Well, far be it for Kuroda to start being predictable now. The 37-year-old righthander withstood a 51-minute lightning delay to start the game and went on to shut down the team that hit him up for seven runs in May. He allowed no runs on four hits with five strikeouts in the 61/2-inning, rain-shortened 6-0 victory. It was technically the third complete game of his five-year career.
"I try not to think about my last two outings as much as possible," Kuroda said through his interpreter. "I don't want to dwell on it and just regroup myself and focus on today's game."
That was easy enough, especially with the Yankees supplying four first-inning runs against the Jays' lefty starter, Ricky Romero. Kuroda, in turn, used his spot-on splitter to fan four batters in the first two innings, all on swinging third strikes. He didn't allow an extra-base hit until J.P. Arencibia's leadoff double in the fifth.
"His splitter was really good today -- one of the better splits that he's had," manager Joe Girardi said. "He located his fastball extremely well, in and out to righthanders. And he kept away from the first guy getting on today, which has plagued him in his last couple starts . . . He kept them in check for most of the game."
Kuroda (9-7, 3.46 ERA) earned his third win in a row and has won all four of his day starts this season, not allowing a run in those 30 innings. And despite his recent missteps, Girardi said the most important thing was ensuring that Kuroda bounced back mentally because Girardi thought he pitched well in his last start against the Angels, when he allowed eight hits and five runs in 71/3 innings.
"I thought he threw the ball great his last start," Girardi said. "He ended up giving up five runs and you look at that and say wow . . . I think important because guys don't want to have two outings where they don't pitch what they're capable of. They want to turn it around the next day."
Kuroda said the run support allowed him to be more aggressive against the Toronto lineup, which seemed particularly punchless coming into the game on a two-game losing streak and lost third baseman Brett Lawrie on a freakish flip into the photographer's pit in the third inning. X-rays on Lawrie's right calf came back negative and he's listed as day-to-day.
"Especially when you have that type of run support early in the game, you can be aggressive and try to go inside on righties or the lefties," Kuroda said. "When I have my splitter, I can get a lot of strikeouts and for this lineup, I think that was really effective."