Forget best pitcher in the Yankees’ injury-riddled rotation, Hiroki Kuroda has pitched his way into an elite class of arms in the league. Currently the only one of the three most trusted Yankees’ starters healthy, Kuroda pitched his best game of the season at home on Tuesday. The 37-year-old shut down the top offense in the league with a two-hit, complete game, 3-0 shutout to hand the Texas Rangers its second straight loss in the Bronx.
For Kuroda, it was just his 11th victory of the year, improving his deceiving record to 11-8 overall, but it also meant lowering his season ERA to 3.06. In the American League East, that’s awfully impressive, especially for an import from the NL West. The veteran starter is now sixth overall in innings pitched (159), 16th in K’s (121), ninth in wins (11), fifth in WAR (4.1), and eighth in WHIP (1.15) and ERA (3.06). As a top 10 pitcher in five major categories, Kuroda has become a dueling ace with injured lefty, CC Sabathia.
Brian Cashman has rightfully been bashed over his long tenure as Yankees’ General Manager for his inability to sign starting pitching talent capable of performing in New York, but he deserves all the credit in the world on this one. Not only is Kuroda only signed for one year at 10 million dollars, but the deal was widely criticized when it happened because it was an aging starter coming from the Dodgers in the NL, a reputation for a pitcher’s park and a pitcher’s league.
In the wake of extended injury time to CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda (who never threw a pitch during the regular season) and with struggles from Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova at times, Kuroda has literally been the only starter in the Bronx yet to falter for an extended period of time.
And he still almost came up short of yet another deserving victory even as he carried a no-hit bid into the 7th inning. Matt Harrison, the southpaw Ranger’s starter on the night, carried his own gem, pitching a shutout into the seventh inning before he was removed in favor of reliever, Alexi Ogando. The battle of two top-three offenses had become one of the most dominating pitcher’s duels of the season.
Ogando promptly blew Harrison’s shutout and gave the Yankees the eventual victory by serving up back-to-back long balls to Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. Swisher has had the go-ahead home run back-to-back nights after his 200th career home run the night before was a Grand Slam. The two dingers accounted for all three Yankees’ runs.
For the Yankees, the win was huge. Though they reverted back to relying on the long ball, previous concerns over hitting with runners in scoring position have been put to rest over the past 46 games. Into Tuesday night, New York was hitting .322 with 18 HR and a .397 OBP over 367 AB since June 23rd with runners in scoring position. That’s good for the best in all of Major League Baseball.
What this game did ensure was guaranteeing at worst, a split with the second best team (record-wise) in the league, keeping the surging Rays (the hottest team in baseball and winners of seven straight as of this writing) from gaining any ground in the division, and it cements Kuroda’s signature performance of the year on the national stage, giving him the credibility he has deserved all season.
There is now no denying Kuroda is one of the best pitchers in the American League. The Texas Rangers’ hitters can vouch first hand.