Home openers can be a second opportunity to make a first impression.
That was the case for Hiroki Kuroda, and to some extent Alex Rodriguez, as the Yankees played their fourth home opener at Yankee Stadium.
Kuroda allowed five singles in eight-plus innings and Rodriguez had his first three-hit game since last summer’s knee surgery in a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Five days after struggling in his Yankee debut, Kuroda looked locked in. He struck out six, walked two and provided the longest outing by any Yankee starting pitcher this season with a 107-pitch showing that ended with a standing ovation after Bobby Abreu’s infield hit in the ninth.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world and I’d like to repeat it as much as possible,” Kuroda said through an interpreter.
Kuroda was able to give the Yankees length by using the splitter that he struggled with last week, while also mixing in an occasional curveball. The best pitch he threw all afternoon might have been the curveball he located on the inside corner for a strikeout against Albert Pujols in the fifth.
“In my first outing, I was trying to hit corners,” Kuroda said. “I think I was too careful in my last outing. I used that from my last outing to help me today. I was able to get aggressive and today I was getting ahead.”
“I didn’t think he’d be too fazed by his surroundings and the magnitude of a game in a sense,” manager Joe Girardi said. “This is a club that he’s faced and seen too so he had to make pitches. He wasn’t going to surprise too many people in that lineup.”
Kuroda retired 10 of the final 11 hitters, allowed just six base runners and held the Angels hitless in nine at-bats with men on base as the Yankees completed their first Opening Day shutout in the Bronx since 2002 against Tampa Bay. He also was the first Yankee to throw at least eight innings since Rick Rhoden in a complete game against Minnesota in 1988 and the first to throw at least eight innings in a home debut since Bob Shirley against Kansas City in 1983.
“He was very impressive,” Rodriguez said. “One of the big keys about pitching at home here in New York is you can’t walk people. You have to attack, you have to throw strikes and you have to get ahead of hitters.”
As for Rodriguez, he entered with a .174 average and home runs or RBI. Those numbers quickly changed as he singled off Ervin Santana, stole second and scored on Nick Swisher’s bases-clearing triple in the first. In his next at-bat, Rodriguez provided the run himself with a long home run to straightaway center field in the third.
Rodriguez’s home run was his 630th, which tied former Seattle Mariner teammate Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth on the all-time list. But he was not done. He had three hits for the first time since June 19 with another base hit that was preceded by a Curtis Granderson solo home run.
“It definitely means I’m getting older,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously Griffey is very special to me.”
All of this was done from the third spot as manager Joe Girardi flip-flopped Rodriguez and Robinson Cano against right-handed pitching with the idea of giving opposing managers difficult decisions about when to use left-handed relievers.
“He’s going to hit; eventually you know he’s going to hit,” Girardi said. “He swung the bat well, he worked the middle of the field great today and didn’t seem to be out in front of pitches.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.