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Hiroki Kuroda struggles in loss to Indians

Hiroki Kuroda walks off the field as he

Hiroki Kuroda walks off the field as he leaves a game against the Cleveland Indians in the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, August 10, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

A bad outing is a bad outing, and nothing more.

So the Yankees insisted.

Hiroki Kuroda struggling in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Indians, unable to locate his pitches consistently or put batters away? Merely a blip on the radar. After all, the righthander had been on a good run of late.

"Just one of those days," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's not like he gave up a ton of runs."

Kuroda allowed only three -- but in 4 2/3 innings, he gave up five hits and four walks, hit a batter and threw 97 pitches, only 57 for strikes. It was his shortest outing since June 14.

"I might have been [too careful], trying not to give up any runs," Kuroda said through his translator. "I was maybe trying too hard to make perfect pitches."

It could be as simple as that, and perhaps it is in isolation. But what could be worrisome for the Yankees is whether this blip is part of a pattern. After all, it's August and Kuroda is 39.

He admitted afterward that he feels some soreness, but only the typical aches from a long season near the end of a long career. "Right now," he said, "it's hard to find a player who is 100 percent physically."

Still, Kuroda's performance conjured memories of last August, when he began a two-month tailspin. He is up to 1471/3 innings this season. Last year, he threw 140 1/3 innings by the end of July, then sputtered in August with a 5.12 ERA and got worse in September (0-3, 5.70 ERA).

After a rough start this year, he has pitched well since May. But could 140 innings now be a veteran wall of sorts for Kuroda, who pitched 11 professional seasons in Japan before joining the Dodgers in 2008? "We've been somewhat conscious of his workload," Girardi said. "We'll continue to watch him."

Kuroda was removed with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth after walking Yan Gomes to force in the third run.

After Michael Brantley tagged him for an RBI single in the first and a sacrifice fly in the third, Kuroda came undone in the fifth, when he hit a batter and walked two others. The four walks he issued were his most since Sept. 19 last year.

"You've got to be able to respond with whatever you've got," said Kuroda, who dropped to 7-8 with a 4.03 ERA. "There's no excuse."

Age could be a valid one. But such is the burden Kuroda bears as the most reliable -- and certainly the most durable -- member of a wracked and reshuffled rotation.

And the Yankees, should their playoff hopes be maintained, can't afford to have him falter.

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