06/07/08 3:03 AM ET
Kuroda channels Dodgers history
Right-hander's shutout harkens to days of Koufax, Drysdale
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
In the glory days of Sandy and Big D, of Sut and Fernando and Bulldog, it was a staple of Dodgers Baseball and a cure to an impotent offense. Then, it went the way of $3-per-gallon gas.
Now, along comes Hiroki Kuroda, who pulled off a stunt on Friday night newer Dodgers fans probably thought impossible, if not prohibited.
Kuroda (3-5) tossed a four-hitter, pitching all nine innings, allowing no runs against a team that leads the league in scoring. He struck out 11 and walked none. He started, and he finished, something no Dodgers pitcher had done previously this season.
The 3-0 Dodgers victory over the Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak, but it also set the bar a little higher than the Dodgers' pitching staff in recent years is familiar with.
The last Dodgers pitcher to throw a gem like this was Derek Lowe, who did it nearly three years ago, also against the Cubs, a one-hitter at Wrigley Field. Back then, Jim Tracy was manager, Paul DePodesta was general manager and the only position player in the lineup then and now was Jeff Kent.
"That's about as close to perfect, without being perfect, as you can be," said Joe Torre, whose predecessor, Grady Little, never enjoyed a complete-game shutout in his two years at the helm. "He totally controlled the game."
By all accounts, Kuroda was able to rebound from his worst start of the year in New York on Sunday with his best start as a Dodger because he changed the grip on his slider. If that's the case, the rest of the staff should ask for lessons.
He only needed 112 pitches to get the job done and finished stronger than he started, retiring the last 10 batters, five on strikeouts. He hit 95 mph in the first inning and in the last. But it was an adjustment he made with the slider that made the difference from his loss against the Mets in which he lasted just 2 2/3 innings.
"Between the last game and this game, I talked a lot with [pitching coach Rick] Honeycutt and changed the grip a little and discussed a lot of issues," said Kuroda. "I had a better slider, obviously. I'm glad it worked out."
Honeycutt said he first proposed changing Kuroda's slider grip in Spring Training, but waited for an opening to revisit the idea. Kuroda was receptive and implemented it during his bullpen session between starts.
"He's got a good cutter, and this isn't much of a change from the grip he uses on the cutter," said Honeycutt. "But it added miles per hour and it looks more like a fastball longer, then it disappears."
The adjustment had the desired effect, as the 11 strikeouts proved.
"He pitched a good game," said Derrek Lee, who struck out twice and had an infield single off Kuroda's glove. "Give him credit. That was probably the best stuff I've seen all year."
"Of anyone," Lee said. "He was throwing 96, and you couldn't pick up the spin on his slider. He was throwing strikes. He was tough. He was a different pitcher [than May 27 in Chicago]. I think he was throwing 91, 92 in Chicago. I know it was cold and it probably affected him. He was a better pitcher today.
"He pitched me completely different," said Lee, who was 1-for-3 against Kuroda on May 27 at Wrigley Field. "He was throwing much harder and his slider was the best slider I've seen all year."
It didn't hurt that Kuroda had a lead with which to work. The first run was provided by Kent, who followed a first-inning walk to Delwyn Young with an RBI double off the wall in center. Kent's night was abbreviated, though, because home-plate umpire Marty Foster ejected him to end an argument after calling Kent out on strikes in the fifth inning on a pitch Kent was sure was low and inside.
The Dodgers manufactured two insurance runs for Kuroda in the fourth and sixth innings, driven home by Danny Ardoin, if you dare to use the word, driven.
The fourth-inning run came on a bases-loaded groundout that just cleared the mound. The sixth-inning run came on a one-out suicide squeeze. Laid end to end, the two at-bats wouldn't leave the infield. But it was enough to give Ardoin, normally a reserve, his first multiple-RBI game since 2005, scoring James Loney both times.
"I squared those up good, didn't I?" joked Ardoin, who was in the lineup to give Russell Martin a break with a day game on Saturday.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.