If Hiroki Kuroda faces the Twins later this year, the game tape will not be enjoyable, especially against Justin Morneau.
Kuroda could not retire Morneau and slogged his way through 4 2/3 innings in last night’s 6-5 loss to the Twins at Yankee Stadium.
The follow-up to Kuroda’s masterpiece in Friday’s home opener was a dud as he tied a career worst by allowing 10 hits for the sixth time in his five-year career. Three of those hits were to Morneau, who actually has two more home runs (seven) at the current Yankee Stadium than at Target Field.
“He’s such a good hitter because he keeps making adjustments,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “He can be aggressive and [get] clutch hits even with two strikes.”
“He’s just not missing his pitches right now,” catcher Russell Martin added. “He’s a tough hitter.”
Morneau feasted on Kuroda’s slider and sinker. He took a first-pitch sinker over the right field wall in the first for a three-run home run that put Minnesota up 4-0.
After lining a single in the third on Kuroda’s fastball, he got ahead 3-0 in the fifth and slugged a slider over the right field wall. That marked Morneau’s 15th career multi-home run game and put Minnesota up 6-4. That insurance did not come back to bite the Yankees until Derek Jeter hit a solo home run with one out in the ninth.
“My sinker is my core pitch,” Kuroda said. “I really didn’t have my other pitches either and you see what happened today.”
Kuroda threw 37 sliders to great effect in his eight-inning masterpiece in the home opener, but it did not appear he much of a feel for any pitches Wednesday night.
Kuroda opened the night by allowing three straight hits on nine pitches. After allowing Morneau’s first home run, he gave up three straight hits in the third and Minnesota’s fifth run on a sinker.
“He was up,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He didn’t have his good sinker that he had against the Angels and they really made him pay, especially in the first inning. He kind of battled through 3 1/3 innings for us, but he was up.”
The Yankees decided not to pitch to Morneau in the ninth.
Despite Kuroda’s inability to retire Morneau, the Yankees had a chance to go two games over .500 for the first time in 2012.
They countered Minnesota’s four-run first by scoring three of their own in the bottom of the inning. Robinson Cano lined an RBI double and Nick Swisher followed with a run-scoring single. Cano also added his first home run of the season in the third.
That was the extent the damage against Jason Marquis, who was making his American League debut. The Yankees had first and second with one out in the fourth, but Jeter flied out and Curtis Granderson struck out.
In the seventh, the Yankees had first and third for Swisher with two outs, but nothing developed as his strikeout sent several fans to the exits.
“I thought we hit the ball really well tonight,” said Mark Teixeira, whose warning track fly out to right field ended it. “We hit a few at 'em balls. It just didn’t go our way.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.