In January of 2012 the New York Yankees signed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a 1-year deal worth around $10 million dollars. After just trading for Mariners’ hurler Michael Pineda the Yankees pitching staff looked very deep with C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia all returning to try and put together a really strong pitching staff. Later in February, the Yankees dealt Burnett to the Pirates in exchange for two prospects and during Spring Training they lost Michael Pineda to shoulder tendinitis that lingered and kept him out for the start of the season (He’d sit out for 2012). A rotation that seemed deep now looked to be filled with holes and no one thought that Hiroki Kuroda would be much of a factor. The 2012 season saw Freddy Garcia crumble and Phil Hughes have a year riddled with home runs and a lot of bad outings. Andy Pettitte returned from the minors in June after coming out of retirement in March but he made only 12 starts and struggled with injuries. The rotation’s ace, C.C. Sabathia even saw his fair share of struggles throughout the season and Ivan Nova got off to a terrific start but found himself the odd man out on the roster and was sent back to the minors. While he would return to the Yankees he could not regain his early season form. The Yankees rotation was in real trouble.
But Kuroda seemed untouchable for much of the season. He won 16 games, throwing three complete games and two shutouts. He struck out 167 batters in 201.1 innings and walked only 51. Kuroda was dominant almost ever start but found himself a victim of low run support on multiple occasions. When he originally signed with the Yankees many worried about how the aging pitcher would perform under the bright lights of the Bronx but the former Los Angeles Dodger and Hiroshima Toyo Carp seemed to be the Yankees best pitcher in 2012… surprising almost every fan of the Bronx Bombers
When 2013 opened in New York it seemed like the Yankees were in even more trouble. Michael Pineda was still injured and not expected to factor in to the Yankees season. Freddy Garcia was a thing of the past, Phil Hughes was coming off an injury, and Ivan Nova, C.C. Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte were very big question marks. Hiroki Kuroda was now going to be 38 and was deciding whether or not to sign with a Major League team, retire, or return home to Japan to end his career as a Carp. But the Yankees brought him back on another 1-year deal and he once again pitched brilliantly. In a horrid year for the Yankees, Kuroda pitched through pain and fatigue to provide the struggling pitching staff with stability and quickly rose to become the staff ace. Although he broke down from overuse toward the end of the year Kuroda was the best pitcher on the Yankees once again.
Kuroda resigned for a third year with the Yankees after rumors of retirement and returning to Japan circulated again. When the 2014 season opens in New York he may not surprise baseball again and save the Yankees season by being one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. Although, he may still have something great left in the tank, Kuroda serves a different role. Believe it or not the Yankees’ staff is getting younger as Ivan Nova (27) looks poised to return to his 2012 form, Michael Pineda (25) finally seems ready to be the pitcher he was in Seattle, and Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka (25) joins the club to try and prove himself on baseball’s biggest stage. Veterans like Kuroda and Sabathia need to be the mentors to these promising young arms so that when both of them move on, someone’s there to take the reins. Kuroda, having been a star in Japan and the US, has the bigger role in helping Masahiro Tanaka adjust to life in Major League Baseball after he joined the Yankees on a 7-year $155 million dollar deal. After the original deal seemed to do nothing but add another old player, Kuroda has been New York’s saving grace and the time has come for him to help prepare a successor before he decides to leave baseball for good.