Kuroda has found comfort zone in AL

Hey, remember when the Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda, which prompted questions about whether he could handle the American League? It was a legitimate concern. I recall years ago Lou Piniella telling me to beware of the records of pitchers on teams from southern California.

“The ball doesn’t carry well in night games in Los Angeles and San Diego,” Sweet Lou said. “A lot of those guys go elsewhere and their good numbers don’t transfer well.”

Kuroda was only so-so in his four seasons with the Dodgers, a 41-46 record despite a 3.45 ERA, so it was fair to wonder how he would do in a league that has an extra hitter in the lineup and in a division – the AL East – that has hitter-friendly venues and some dangerous lineups.

Is anyone questioning Kuroda now? Probably not even Piniella.

The Japanese righthander may have been the Yankees’ most reliable pitcher last year and has been their top starter this season as well. Kuroda improved his 2013 record to 5-2 with a 2.31 ERA Sunday in the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Royals. After the Yankees overcame a 1-0, first-inning deficit with a three-run third powered by a two-run home run by Robinson Cano and a solo shot by Vernon Wells in successive at-bats off Kansas City starter Ervin Santana, Kuroda did not allow another run until the eighth, his last inning.

It was not an overpowering outing by Kuroda, who had only one strikeout, but it was no less formidable. Kuroda got 16 outs in the infield and kept the Royals hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position. KC would make it 0-for-4 in the eighth when David Robertson retired Billy Butler on a fly to center stranding a runner on second base.

Kuroda is now 21-13 with a 3.13 ERA during his time with the Yankees. His adjustment to the AL has been extraordinary.

The Yankees’ sweep of the Royals ran their winning streak to five games heading into a makeup doubleheader Monday at Cleveland. It was a far more pleasant experience at Kauffman Stadium this year than last for Mariano Rivera, who was honored by the Royals in a pre-game ceremony featuring Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett. Rivera, who tore up his left knee in KC last May, earned his 15th save in 15 opportunities this season and his 29th in a row against the Royals. Mo was 37-for-39 in save chances against them in his career.

In addition to his ninth home run, Wells had two other hits, both singles, and a stolen base. Wells has had a strong trip, batting .360 with three home runs and seven RBI in 25 at-bats and overall is hitting .295 with 20 RBI. With Curtis Granderson close to returning to active duty with the Yanks, Wells promises to give manager Joe Girardi some headaches trying to figure out how his outfield will look on a daily basis.

Considering all the difficulty Girardi has had dealing with an abundance of Yankees injuries, he probably won’t mind that challenge.

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