Hiroki Kuroda pitched the home opener way back on April 13 and pitched eight shutout innings against the Angels. On Wednesday, he is slated to make his last start of the year in a game that can either clinch the AL East or the best record in the American League and home-field advantage throughout the first two rounds.

When discussing his upcoming start, Kuroda took a business-like approach.

“To be honest with you, I never enjoyed pitching,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “All throughout my pro career there’s a lot of responsibility as a pitcher. Rather than enjoy myself I have to fulfill my responsibility.”

The Yankees are hoping the Kuroda they see is the one who was 8-4 with a 2.58 ERA from June 1 to Aug. 31. Kuroda has a 5.22 ERA since, though he has won three of four decisions, including Friday in Toronto when he allowed 10 hits but just two runs in 5 1/3 innings.


“Right now this point in the season, I can’t really do anything about it,” Kuroda said. “I have to do my best and pitch my game.”

Kuroda did not pitch in division clinchers during his first two years with the Dodgers. He did, however, pitch the NLDS clincher against the Cubs in 2008.

“I think it’s important because it’s a guy who has pitched in big games in his career and you don’t want him to get caught up in this could mean this or this could mean that, just go out and execute pitches,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s why I love having a veteran out there.

“If you take away the first month where he was kind of up and down and trying to do too much in his first month, he’s handled it very well.”

Girardi defends pitching CC eight innings

When the Yankees scored nine times in the second inning, many thought Girardi would lift CC Sabathia in order to preserve him for a possible one-game, wild-card playoff on Friday.

Girardi said he wasn’t going to do that, especially since Sabathia had a pitch count right at 100.

“It’s not like I asked him to throw 120 pitches. He threw 100 pitches and CC, when he gets on a roll, he’s on a roll,” Girardi said. “It seems sometimes the more work he gets the better he gets and you’re asking me to think about what if we tie and what if we have to play. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve got to worry about today.

“Am I concerned about what’s going to happen in the future about setting up a rotation? Absolutely but I don’t think you can afford to lose a game or lose something because you’re thinking about possibilities that may or might not happen. I think you have to manage for today because the last thing you want to get into is that one-game playoff.”

Girardi has conversations with Hal

Girardi frequently converses with Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner about the state of the team. And in the last two days, he has talked to Steinbrenner, who Monday said that nobody had to worry about job security.

“I saw him yesterday,” Girardi said. “I saw him today. You have to get here pretty early to see Hal; he’s in the gym pretty early. I’ve seen him the last couple of days; he’s good and things are good.

“I don’t worry about it and I don’t expect him to relay anything. I have a job to do and I understand what my job is and just go to work.”

Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.

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