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Tigers rough up Hiroki Kuroda, but he says he's not concerned

Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda removes his cap

Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda removes his cap during the first inning of an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

TAMPA, Fla. - In his first appearance of the spring, Hiroki Kuroda pitched two shutout innings March 1.

He was so efficient that afternoon against the Phillies, needing only 17 pitches, that Joe Girardi sent him to the bullpen for extra work because the plan was for the righthander to get to about 35 pitches.

"We had to make him go throw a bullpen, he got through his innings so easy,'' Girardi said that day. "Down in the zone, good command. Kind of what we're used to seeing from him.''

The Yankees didn't see much of that Wednesday, when the 39-year-old Kuroda got roughed up by the Tigers, allowing six runs and 10 hits in 32/3 innings.

And there was absolutely zero concern.

"I feel good about him,'' Girardi said of Kuroda, who allowed no runs and two hits in his first two outings. "I think he's going to have another good year for us. The arm speed is there, everything's there. Here's a guy that's been around a long time, and I don't make too much of spring training games.''

Kuroda said most of his difficulties Wednesday against the Tigers could be traced to a "mechanical'' issue that caused him to leave too many of his breaking pitches up in the zone. He has been the Yankees' most reliable pitcher during each of the last two seasons, going 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in 2012 and 11-13, but with a 3.31 ERA, last year.

That included going 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA in his final eight games of the season, a slump Girardi and Kuroda have theorized was the result of fatigue. That's the reason why the manager and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have discussed ways in which they can give Kuroda more in-season rest.

Still, Kuroda's consistency has been such that he commands attention much the way an umpire does: when he doesn't do his job.

A good example of that was that March 1 outing. Kuroda entered in the third inning, sandwiched between CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, who happened to be making his Yankees debut.

Derek Jeter said, however, that inside the clubhouse Kuroda is noticed plenty.

"He might be under the radar for you guys, but not for us,'' Jeter said before Wednesday's game, a 7-7 tie in 10 innings.

"Hiro has been awesome since he's been here. He goes out there, he battles, he throws his innings and he keeps you in games. He's not someone people enjoy facing. I know that from guys who get to second base, they say things about him. He knows how to pitch, he knows what he's doing.''

One word Jeter said he has heard at second from opposing players is "nasty.''

"You never know what he's going to throw," Jeter said. "He's not a comfortable at-bat, he keeps you guessing. Anytime you have a guy who throws so many different pitches and can control those pitches, and he'll throw any pitch at any time, it keeps you off balance. You never get comfortable.''

The Tigers' hitters looked comfortable Wednesday, but Kuroda, like his manager, said he isn't concerned.

"At this phase of spring training, it's not easy to be 100 percent every time,'' Kuroda said. "I think my velocity is pretty good, and it's just a matter of small changes mechanically and that's what I'm trying to work on.''

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