If the Yankees and their fans had second thoughts about Hiroki Kuroda following his shaky first start against the Rays last week, the Japanese righty may have put them to bed Friday afternoon. The 37-year-old righty dominated the Angels for eight innings in his Yankee Stadium debut, allowing just five hits, two walks, and not a single run. If not for a Bobby Abreu infield single to lead off the ninth, Kuroda may have been able to complete the shutout; instead, at 109 pitches, Joe Girardi opted to let David Robertson finish the job.
Kuroda fed the Angels a steady diet of sinkers and although he didn’t draw a single swinging strike with the pitch, it was very effective. Of the 37 he threw, 29 went for strikes, and when the Angels made contact it was typically weak. Twelve times a sinker ended an at-bat and nine of them produced outs (four groundouts, including one double play, four flyouts, and one strikeout).
Despite the Angels managing to get the ball in the air a few times against the sinker, Kuroda still managed to get 12 ground balls on the day. When Kuroda kept his pitches on the outer half of the plate, the Angels beat the ball into the ground instead of lifting it the other way. In many cases, the Angels were trying to pull these pitches and would roll over them for ground balls as a result:
These ground balls produced six outs total, including one double play — only the Abreu ground ball single which finally chased Kuroda in the ninth (bottom right) resulted in a hit. Part of this may have been the approach of the Angels hitters — Mark Trumbo, for instance, is not known for his patience, and he pulled a double play ground ball on a pitch outside off the plate (top right). But Kuroda still did an excellent job of spotting his pitches low and outside, where ground ball pitches try to live.
Kuroda’s ability to get ground balls is probably the biggest question mark surrounding his move from Chavez Ravine to Yankee Stadium. After maintaining ground ball rates around 50% or the first three years of his MLB career, Kuroda dropped off to 43.2% in 2011. Against designated hitters and the generally superior offenses in the American League, particularly when pitching in the much smaller and much more home run friendly Yankee Stadium, Kuroda will need to keep the ball on the ground to be successful.
With 12 ground balls on 21 total balls in play, Kuroda aced his first test in New York. Even with the complete game spoiled by an infield hit, the Yankees still got everything they could ask for out of their new number-two starter.