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Kuroda goes 7-plus innings, continues strong stretch

New York Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda delivers

New York Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda delivers in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians. (June 25, 2012) Credit: AP

Now that the get-acquainted portion of their relationship is over, Hiroki Kuroda is acting as though he has always been part of the Yankees' prosperity.

Kuroda earned his fourth win in his last five decisions Monday night, coasting to a 7-1 win over the Indians at the Stadium after being given a 6-0 lead through three innings.

Kuroda (7-7) gave up a run and five hits in seven-plus innings. He walked two and struck out seven. The strong 103-pitch effort -- he blanked Cleveland on three hits through seven innings -- continued the dramatic progress made by the 37-year-old righty.

His signing to a one-year deal was questioned when he was 3-6 with a 4.56 ERA and pitched inconsistently. Kuroda, speaking through an interpreter, credited his reversal of fortunes to nothing more complicated than hard work. "It's an accumulation of everything you do every day," he said.

The early offensive barrage helped him make quick work of Cleveland. "I try to take the same approach no matter what kind of game it is," he said. "But you can get more aggressive."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said before the game that he believes improved pitch selection has everything to do with Kuroda's improvement.

"I think he started using his slider more and I think he stopped using his cutter for the most part and his fastball has been more effective," Girardi said. "Those are the three things that I've seen mostly from him."

Kuroda, 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA in 32 starts for the Dodgers last year, also keeps hitters off balance with a good curveball that he throws judiciously.

"He's used his curveball sporadically throughout the year," Girardi said. "He uses it as a strike pitch early in the count. But he's used his slider a lot more effectively for me."

Kuroda's recent effectiveness in the first inning represents a major source of improvement. After surrendering 12 first-inning runs in his first nine starts, he has hung up nothing but zeroes in his last six.

Although it was hardly uneventful, he retired Cleveland in order to begin the lopsided contest. Leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo provided a scare for the Yankees when he sent leftfielder Raul Ibañez to the warning track to pull in his towering drive before Asdrubal Cabrera struck out and Jason Kipnis grounded out to second.

In the eighth, Kuroda allowed a leadoff single and a double before being lifted for Clay Rapada. He gave up a sacrifice fly to Kipnis, the lone run charged to Kuroda.

Just as Kuroda is adjusting to the American League and a new team, the Yankees are learning more about the savvy pitcher who spent 11 seasons with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japanese Central League.

Statistics strongly suggest that he thrives on routine. He is 6-2 with a 1.67 ERA when working on exactly four days' rest.

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