Hiroki Kuroda’s first two starts did not go anything close to how he hoped. His third start featured the type of sinker he’s more used to.
Kuroda scattered five hits and got 18 groundball outs during his sixth career complete game in last night’s 3-0 victory over the Orioles
“I thought sinker was so excellent,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You look at all the groundball outs he got - that tells me his sinker was excellent.”
Going into last night, Kuroda had thrown 37 sinkers, accounting for 24.5 percent of his pitches. He made liberal use of the pitch Sunday night, throwing it 53 times and getting 15 outs with the pitch.
“Against the lefties and as well as against the righties, I was able to throw my sinker with precision,” Kuroda said through an interpreter.
“He’s fun to catch,” said catcher Francisco Cervelli, who described Kuroda’s command of the sinker as “unbelievable.” “It’s great because he’s able to throw any pitch whenever he wants.”
It was Kuroda’s fourth complete game with the Yankees and third shutout in pinstripes. It was his fifth career shutout and it came after he allowed five runs and nine hits in his first 6 2/3 innings this season.
Kuroda threw 113 pitches, an average of 3.5 to 32 hitters. The Orioles had just one at-bat with a runner in scoring position and not until the ninth inning. He also threw first-pitch strikes to 22 hitters and had just two three-ball counts, which is why there was little doubt in Girardi’s mind about letting Kuroda finish.
Like Chien Ming-Wang and Mike Pelfrey when their sinking fastballs were working extremely well, the ball often found its way to the infielders. It also accounted for two of his more impressive outs of the night when he struck out Nick Markakis and Chris Davis.
The strikeout of Markakis opened the fourth inning as Kuroda located three straight sinking fastballs above the plate. Each one moved slightly closer to Markakis and the Baltimore right fielder did not attempt to swing as he was called out on strikes.
Kuroda struck out Davis to end the fourth on the sinker but also got him for the first out of the seventh after Adam Jones led off with an infield single. The latter at-bat was a little tougher for Kuroda, who reached a full count by throwing a sinker way inside for ball three.
“Obviously he’s a great hitter with power and with average,” Kuroda said. “I was trying not to allow a big extra-base hit.”
However, on the next pitch Kuroda dropped in a belt-high sinker and Davis didn’t move the bat off his shoulder.
“It was down and it was running, a lot more than I think they were expecting,” first baseman Lyle Overbay said. “To see a lefty kind of go like this [and flinch] on an inside fastball and he’s almost hitting the middle [of the plate], that’s impressive. He has a good sinker but I’ve never seen a lefty do that consistently. You get that occasionally.”
While Kuroda’s sinker was mostly dominating, the Yankee bats did not generate much for most of the night against Wei-Yin Chen. They scored three in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Jayson Nix and a two-run home run by Brett Gardner that clanged off the right-field foul pole.
It was enough because of how well Kuroda’s rhythm was working, especially with his sinker.
“He kept the ball down and even if they hit that, it’s a ground ball,” Overbay said. “He mixed his pitches real well and still was aggressive.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.