SURPRISE, Ariz. -- In the first Cactus League start of his career Monday night, Hiroki Kuroda did what's expected of a fourth starter.

He kept his club in the game, allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings, striking out four without a walk but allowing seven hits. He's got a 5.03 ERA in his six spring starts, but even after allowing a home run to Mark Teahen, Kuroda drew praise from manager Joe Torre.

"He was great," Torre said. "I thought he controlled his stuff real well. He had a great splitter tonight, a good cutter and sinker. He used all his pitches. Better command than he's had all spring."

Kuroda wouldn't argue with any of that in any language. He said he thought he was ready for the start of the regular season. He will start Sunday in the final exhibition game against the Red Sox, then start the fourth game of the season in San Diego a week from Friday.

"I was pretty satisfied with my performance today," he said.

Kuroda said he now has "a better sense" of the Major League strike zone, which has been his first serious challenge during his first Spring Training in the United States.

"It's a little wider here compared to Japan," Kuroda said. "It's not like I'm throwing strikes and they're calling balls. It's just finding the consistency."

Kuroda narrowly escaped a freak injury when, while coming over to field a tapper down the line, Royals speedster Joey Gathright literally hurdled Kuroda and was safe. Kuroda said the incident occurred while he was fumbling the ball and he didn't realize Gathright actually jumped over his head, but said that during the season, "I have to go with the intensity to knock him over to get the out."

With closer Takashi Saito nursing his second minor injury of the spring, five relievers followed Kuroda and four were scored upon. Joe Beimel's erratic spring continued as he was charged with two runs on two hits and a balk, but not covering first base in time on the first hit was the biggest mistake.

"He's got to get over on that ball," said Torre. "It cost us four runs."

Beimel's ERA soared to 10.29, but it sounds as though he still has the club made as the primary left-handed reliever.

"He's throwing the ball good," said Torre. "He might have thought twice about the pitch selection. But I think his stuff is fine."

Said Beimel: "I'm not concerned. I hope they're not concerned. I know the numbers aren't pretty. I feel good, as bad as they look. When you're not putting up numbers, in the back of your mind, you wonder what they're thinking. I hope the last two years mean more than this spring."

Also allowing runs were Mike Myers, Ramon Troncoso and Jonathan Broxton. Greg Jones was the only reliever who did not allow a baserunner.