Rough welcome to AL East for Kuroda

Welcome to the American League East, Hiroki Kuroda. The Japanese righthander, who signed with the Yankees as a free agent from the Dodgers, got a taste of what baseball’s most competitive division is like Saturday night as the Rays jumped on him for two first-inning runs and built a 6-2 lead by the time Kuroda departed with two outs in the fifth.

Kuroda’s signature pitch, a split-finger fastball, was not as evident as he pitched behind in the count much of the night. He walked four batters, including two in the first inning when the Rays drew first blood. The runs were not earned off Kuroda because of  an error by Eduardo Nunez, who started at shortstop as Derek Jeter was the designated hitter.

Nunez, who made 20 errors in 112 games last year, got off to an inauspicious start by bobbling the first ground ball hit to him, by Desmond Jennings, who reached on the boot. A two-out single by Luke Scott, who had three hits off Kuroda — all on first-pitch fastballs — drove in the first two runs.

Another two-out, RBI hit — a single by Carlos Pena in the second — and a home run by Matt Joyce in the third made it 4-0 Rays before the Yankees halved the lead with two runs off David Price in the fourth. Andruw Jones, starting in left field against the left-handed Price, singled in one run. Nunez atoned in part for his error to single home the second run.

Kuroda settled down somewhat before being touched for successive doubles by Ben Zobrist and Scott in the sixth and lost a battle with Jennings, whose two-out single made the score 6-2. The Yankees got out of that inning because of bad base running by Tampa Bay after Kuroda was removed.

How Kuroda would make the transfer to the AL East from the National League West was a matter of concern when he was signed. He’s a fly-ball pitcher, which can be dangerous at Yankee Stadium where Kuroda is on turn to start the home opener Friday against the Angels.

Assessments cannot be made after merely one game. Kuroda did not seem flustered at all, even when the larger portion of a shattered bat sailed over his head in the sixth. Unfortunately, it was his own escape act of the game.

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