In three months, Hiroki Kuroda has pitched 122 innings for the Yankees. His most important innings will be in the postseason but in the sampling he has provided, the Yankees’ confidence has to be building.
Kuroda scattered four hits in seven scoreless innings Wednesday afternoon and the Yankees continued rolling with a 6-0 victory over the Blue Jays that was called after seven innings. The win pushed the best team in baseball to 23 games over .500.
Kuroda allowed three singles and a double on a day where he did not have to face Jose Bautista (wrist). He had a relatively stress-free afternoon against the rest of Toronto’s lineup and improved to 6-1 over his last 10 starts.
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“Earlier in the season, I was trying to be perfect,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “I was allowing my pitches to be on the corners. Mentally I think I was getting more aggressive after May.”
That stretch began with eight scoreless innings in Oakland when he allowed four hits. He took a 4.56 ERA into that game, but lowered it to 3.46 after rebounding from a pair of no-decisions against Boston and the Angels where he allowed 12 runs and 18 hits in 13 innings.
“He was brilliant today,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think it was important because guys don’t want to have two outings where they don’t pitch how they’re capable of. They want to turn it around right away.”
It also marked the fifth time this season that Kuroda pitched seven scoreless innings, which is the most by any American League pitcher. He was credited with his third career complete game after umpires decided to call it due to the continued threat of rain.
The best thing that Kuroda has working on a 95-degree day was his combination of splitters, sliders and sinkers. Those were responsible for six strikeouts and 11 groundball outs, including a stretch when he recorded five of six outs on the ground in the third and fourth.
“I thought his split was really today, one of the better splits that he had today,” Girardi said. “I thought he located his fastball extremely well, in and out to right-handed hitters, and he got away from the first guy getting on which has plagued him the last couple of starts.”
“The starting pitching has been good for us all season,” Mark Teixeira said. “When we win a lot of games in a row or go on a nice roll, it’s about starting pitching.”
The closest thing Kuroda had to a threat was in the seventh when he put two on with one out, but even that would be a stretch since he had a six-run lead. Kuroda kept it that way by working out of first and third and getting Omar Vizquel to pop out to second on a splitter.
Like Tuesday night, the Yankees made things comfortable for a starting pitcher by scoring early. The only difference was that the early home run came from Mark Teixeira in the first as opposed to Andruw Jones in the second Tuesday.
Teixeira hit his two-run home run just pitches in against Ricky Romero and was a sign of things to come for the Yankees. They took a 4-0 lead shortly after hitting their 146th home run of the season and pounded Romero for 12 hits.
“I think it helps a lot,” Girardi said. “I think our guys set the tone early. Romero has been tough on us. I thought our guys did a really good job on him.”
Every starter had a hit except for Alex Rodriguez, who also made a throwing error in the first after being the designated hitter the previous two nights due to a stiff neck. Rodriguez heard some mild boos from the crowd after he could not get to an infield single in the sixth.
Among those starters were Dewayne Wise and Jayson Nix. Wise drove in the final two runs while Nix also added two hits and scored twice.
“I’ve been really pleased with how it’s been shared,” Girardi said. “It hasn’t been two guys doing all the work. You got contributions from so many guys in this lineup. That’s really pleasing to me because it makes it difficult to get through our lineup and I think it wears on pitchers.”
“It’s a lot of fun coming to the ballpark right now,” Nick Swisher added. “It’s so much fun because everything’s going our way.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.