Yankee Stadium nice fit for Japanese imports
The Yankees’ Japanese tandem of Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki has certainly found a comfortable home at Yankee Stadium. Sunday night’s 4-1 victory in the rubber game of the series against Boston was achieved mainly through their combined efforts.
Kuroda was brilliant again for eight innings, marking the seventh straight start in which he has allowed three runs or less. This time, it was only one. Kuroda was working on a two-hit shutout when he gave up a solo home run to Adrian Gonzalez with one out in the seventh. Suzuki had already helped stake Kuroda to a four-run lead with a pair of solo home runs.
“The thing about both Hiroki and Ichiro is that they are extremely well prepared,” manager Joe Girardi said. “They are ready to do and do their jobs.”
The Stadium seems to bring about the best in these two guys. Kuroda came to the Yankees as a free agent after pitching for four seasons for the Dodgers. There were concerns that he might not find hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium to his liking as much as pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. It was reasonable to assume he would have to make adjustments, but one thing he did not change was his approach.
“This is a smaller park that some others, but you cannot be afraid,” Kuroda said. “You still have to stay aggressive, and I try to be as aggressive as possible.”
The key for Kuroda is to keep the ball down, which he has done with regularity.
“He has been on a tremendous roll,” Girardi said of Kuroda, who is 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA over his past 11 starts and 9-2 with a 2.22 ERA over his past 16 starts. “The consistency of his sinker and slider has been amazing, and he throws in a few splitters as well.”
In 15 starts at the Stadium this year, Kuroda is 9-4 with a 2.03 ERA in 113 2/3 innings. Opposing hitters are batting only .210 against him with eight home runs and 25 RBI in 377 at-bats. Kuroda is pitching better for the Yankees than he did for the Dodgers just as he pitched better for the Dodgers than he did in Japan.
“I try to evolve and be creative as a pitcher,” he said. “Every year I try to pitch better.”
As for Ichiro, he has really gotten into the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry and was jubilant after the victory. Sunday night capped off a terrific homestand in which he had 10-for-19 (.526) with a double, a triple and the two homers. He has 14 hits in his past 30 at-bats, a .467 stretch that has raised his batting average 12 points to .272. Suzuki is batting .322 in 87 at-bats since joining the Yankees and is even better at the Stadium as he has hit .358 with two doubles, one triple, three home runs and four RBI.
For his career, Ichiro is batting .345 with five home runs in 116 at-bats at the current Stadium and .343 with eight home runs in 280 at-bats at the old and new Stadiums combined.
“I haven’t changed at all,” Suzuki said when asked if his approach is different at the Stadium. “A guy my size (5-10, 170 pounds) is still going to find it tough to get the ball out there.”
Anyone who has seen Ichiro take batting practice knows that he can turn on a ball with power on occasion, similar to the way Wade Boggs used to be.
“I just feel so good coming into this clubhouse every day,” Suzuki said.
The feeling among the Yankees is mutual.