As we all know, Yankees’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda seriously considered retiring this offseason. Kuroda has also considered retirement in past offseasons, but says this offseason, he thought longer and harder about it than ever before. So why did he decide to return? Well, Yankees fans can add another reason to their list of thank yous, for the great Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Because in a way, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera brought the right-hander back for another season.
“With Andy and Mariano gone, I’m still a year younger than Andy and a few years younger than Mariano,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “That sort of pushed me to probably go for one more year.” Kuroda turned 39 earlier this month, and said naturally, his biggest reason for considering retirement was his age. Kuroda admitted to being inspired particularly by Pettitte, who at age 41, gave the Yankees 185 1/3 innings last season. “It was encouraging for me to see a pitcher who’s older than me to go out there and pitch in a rotation for a whole season,” Kuroda said. “Now that he’s gone, I’m really surprised. His presence was really big for me.”
Stationed in neighboring lockers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Kuroda and Pettitte struck up a friendship that made it past any language barriers. They often discussed their various pitches and approaches against hitters, and Kuroda said that “to not have him around the clubhouse is something I’ll miss.” Kuroda was by far the Yankees’ best pitcher for most of last season. He was 11-7 with a 2.33 ERA through his first 24 starts, but faded down the stretch, going 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA in his final eight starts. He finished the season with an overall record of 11-13, with a 3.31 ERA. Kuroda admitted to the quality of his pitches declining over the last half of the season. Yankees manager Joe Girardi also admitted to pushing Kuroda a little too hard down the stretch with the team still in postseason contention.
Kuroda claims he is proud to have exceeded 200 innings in each of the last three seasons, but understands that it is more important to finish the season strong. “The past three seasons, I’ve pitched 200 innings,” he said. “It has been a big motivation for me personally. Obviously, I want to achieve that. But at the same time, it’s a team sport, and whatever is good for the team is something I want to follow.” The Yankees are counting on Kuroda to be their number two starter, behind ace C.C. Sabathia, who is coming off the worst season of his career. The way Sabathia, Kuroda, newly acquired Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, and Ivan Nova all perform will obviously either make or break this team in 2014. But one thing’s for sure. Kuroda has been a rock for this Yankees team the past couple of years, and they are very happy to have him back for at least another one.