Kuroda mentally prepared for return
Dodgers right-hander scheduled to start on Sunday
LOS ANGELES -- Joe Torre said the first pitch Hiroki Kuroda threw in a Tuesday night rehab start for Class A Inland Empire was lined back over the pitcher's head and into center field.
Kuroda -- making his first competitive appearance since taking a line drive off the head Aug. 15 -- didn't duck or flinch or let it bother him as he went on to allow one unearned run over five innings.
"Solved that problem," Torre said, referring to the uncertainty whether Kuroda would be psychologically gun-shy. "Kenji [interpreter Kenji Nimura] said he never really flinched. I'm pleased. You never really know until his first reaction. He's definitely a tough guy."
Kuroda's next assignment will be as the starting pitcher Sunday against the Padres, even though that game has been rescheduled to accommodate ESPN for 5:10 p.m. PT, when shadows will fall across Dodger Stadium, as they did the September 2002 afternoon that Kaz Ishii was drilled in the forehead by a line drive he never saw.
"I recall Ishii was hit in a 5 o'clock game, but like I said before, if I get hit in the head again, I'm retiring," said a laughing Kuroda, only half-joking. "It's hard to joke about something that serious, but you just can't be thinking about getting hit in the head when you're pitching."
Kuroda said he isn't insulted when asked if there could be psychological hurdles to clear after taking Rusty Ryal's line drive above the right temple.
"Stan [Conte, trainer] told me that a lot of pitchers are not able to pitch after something like that," Kuroda said. "There were times yesterday when I was going to throw a fastball outside that I thought about the pitch I threw to Ryal, because it was an outside fastball. But when I play in a Major League game, there are so many other things to be concerned about, I'm sure I won't be thinking like that. I'll be more focused."
Sunday also will be the fifth day for Vicente Padilla, who pitched five strong innings Tuesday night but also limped out of the clubhouse with a bad bruise on his left calf after taking a line-drive direct shot. Padilla said the leg was greatly improved Wednesday, although Torre used the injury as a possible reason for giving Padilla an extra day or two.
Kuroda and Padilla give the Dodgers six starters, the others being Randy Wolf, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and the newest one, Jon Garland. With four scheduled days off in the next 29, Torre won't use that many. He said he wants to give Kershaw's 21-year-old arm a few extra days of rest. He would have skipped him a start, "but he's pitched too well to skip him in the rotation."
Complicating things are that Wolf and Billingsley prefer to remain on their regular five-day cycle and Torre has tried all season to keep that intact, but wavered a little Wednesday.
"It wouldn't hurt to give Wolf an extra day," Torre said. "With our off-days, it gives us the opportunity to take an extra day, whether they like it or not."
Torre sidestepped the question when asked if he'd stick with a six-man rotation.
"We have it through [the weekend] and we don't need to play beyond that," he said.
The first day off will be next Thursday.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.