06/24/09 12:58 AM ET
Dominant Kuroda cruises for Dodgers
Righty strikes out season-high nine in 8 2/3 innings
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
The Dodgers players that weren't suspended played a Major League game on Tuesday night and it turned into a long-awaited showcase for Hiroki Kuroda.
Remember him? Opening Day starter? Staff ace? Playoff hero? Warrior?
Except that after he pitched the Dodgers to an Opening Day win, he strained an oblique muscle and disappeared for almost two months. Meanwhile, the Dodgers didn't seem to miss him.
He returned four starts earlier but was really back on track in a 5-2 Interleague win over the White Sox, dominant until running out of gas one out from a complete game.
"That was vintage stuff," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
Kuroda struck out nine, walked none and had a two-hitter until hitting empty with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Jonathan Broxton, rebounding from a sore toe and two shaky weekend outings, came on for a three-pitch strikeout of Jim Thome and his 18th save.
So here's the best team in baseball, 23 games above .500 for the first time this year, with its Opening Day starter back in the win column and You-Know-Who only a Minor League assignment away. What can the teams chasing the Dodgers be thinking?
"What else do those guys need? Don't they already have enough?" suggested Orlando Hudson, who was on one of those teams last year with the D-backs. "But that's just part of the game. Kuroda was on point all night. It was great to see him dominate."
Especially after back-to-back Interleague starts in which Kuroda allowed nine runs combined in 11 1/3 innings. He came into this game 0-3 in his previous four starts without having pitched more than six innings in any of his five starts.
With Kuroda's 8 2/3 innings following Clayton Kershaw's seven-inning start Sunday, the Dodgers have posted consecutive starts of at least seven innings for the first time in nearly a month.
"The more guys that do it, the less stress there is on guys trying to do it," Torre said of starters pitching deep into the game. "It would mean a lot to our bullpen. We've relied on the bullpen a great deal."
And Kuroda did it with a bold adjustment, changing the grip of his two-seam fastball, which turned into his most effective pitch against the aggressive White Sox lineup, especially with his slider ineffective all night.
"It was a huge decision on my part," Kuroda said of the grip change he implemented in an Anaheim bullpen session. "You have to be really courageous to do this during the season, but I had to make a change after my last start and that was it."
It was the belief of Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt that Kuroda was trying just a little too hard, overthrowing just enough to elevate pitches into the hitting zone.
"What you saw tonight was command of the lower part of the zone, so he got a lot of groundouts and quick outs," Honeycutt said of Kuroda, who had 89 pitches through eight innings and recorded 12 groundouts. "The last time, he was up just enough to be hittable. It didn't really look like him in the last two starts. Tonight he had that downward action."
Kuroda, who retired 17 of 18 at one point, had an early lead with which to work. The Dodgers scored in the first inning on consecutive doubles by Rafael Furcal and Hudson. Then James Loney extended the lead in the second inning on a two-run homer, his fifth and third in the past four games.
Former Dodger Paul Konerko homered off Kuroda with one out in the second inning, then Kuroda allowed only one more hit until the two were out in the ninth.
Kuroda credited a pregame strategy session with starting catcher Russell Martin and veteran backup Brad Ausmus.
"They were really studying the opposing hitters video before the game, and whatever sign Russell gave me, I went with it," Kuroda said. "I was just following their lead. The biggest thing was not allowing any walks. Usually, that puts pressure on myself. That's one of the biggest reasons for tonight."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.