- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DENVER -- Hiroki Kuroda wouldn't blame it on the mile-high altitude, the light air, the cold, the wind or what is arguably the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the majors. He wouldn't even blame it on the fact he simply doesn't match up well against the heavily left-handed Colorado Rockies, even though his numbers in six career starts against them would strongly suggest that he doesn't.
But the one thing Kuroda did blame for his lackluster performance Saturday night, when the Los Angeles Dodgers were pounded 11-3 by the Rockies before 43,261 at Coors Field, sounded like the same thing so many other pitchers have blamed for so many years after struggling to pitch effectively in these unique environs.
"Overall, I didn't have command of anything," Kuroda said through interpreter Kenji Nimura. "My control wasn't there, and my breaking ball wasn't moving, especially my slider."
Sound familiar? It should, but it only tells part of the story.
Kuroda has made two career starts at Coors, and he has given up 10 earned runs and 19 hits over 10 innings. But he also has made five career starts against the Rockies, and he has given up 23 earned runs and 43 hits over 27 1/3 innings. Given that three of those starts came at Dodger Stadium, it can't all be attributed to light air and flat breaking balls.
"I don't really know what it is," Kuroda said. "They really have good lefties, but I haven't been able to make all my pitches [against them]. They just have great hitters."
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt dismissed the suggestion Kuroda and the Rockies are a bad combination. Honeycutt pointed to the individual matchups, where none of the Rockies players has enough at-bats against Kuroda to form much of a basis.
Seth Smith is now 5-for-8 against Kuroda after singling twice and tripling off him in this game. Ian Stewart is 4-for-7. And Brad Hawpe is 3-for-10. But Carlos Gonzalez is 2-for-4 and Todd Helton is a paltry 1-for-7. Those are all left-handed hitters. But those are all small sample sizes too.
"When you look at the individual at-bats, there isn't a ton of history there," Honeycutt said. "There is nobody that stands out. It's not like anybody is 10-for-15 off of him."
Kuroda (5-3), who was trying hard to not make excuses for what was arguably his worst start of the season, did concede to the two Japanese reporters who interviewed him after the American media was done that he struggled with the unusual consistency of the Coors Field mound, which he said was harder than what he is used to pitching on -- something that also could be a result of the dry Colorado air.
The first indication of that came on Kuroda's third pitch of the evening. He got one of his spikes caught in the dirt and wound up hitting Carlos Gonzalez, the first salvo in what became a two-run first inning for the Rockies. That could have been a big reason none of Kuroda's pitches seemed to wind up where he wanted them to, and why he was yanked two batters into the fifth inning and ultimately was charged with seven runs (five earned) and 10 hits.
Kuroda threw 31 of his 80 pitches in the first inning alone.
"He was always behind in the count," Honeycutt said. "That makes it tough, no matter who you are. And that really isn't him. He is usually in his areas and in his zones."
The good news for Kuroda is he won't have to face the Rockies again until at least August, the next time the Dodgers (27-22) and Rockies will meet after Sunday's series finale. The bad news is they play each other 12 times during the final seven weeks of the season, meaning that assuming he stays healthy, Kuroda is almost guaranteed to face them at least two or three more times, and in the heat of a late-season pennant race, no less.
On the other hand, Kuroda's career numbers against the Rockies could be nothing more than coincidence. If that is true, he should have nothing to worry about the next time his spot in the rotation comes up against them.
"I think he just has to chalk this one up," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "When you start every fifth or sixth day all year long, you're going to run into your fair share of clunkers. That was pretty much what happened."
Kuroda, and the rest of the Dodgers, can only hope that is all it was.
Lost in the shuffle
Rafael Furcal, who came in 1-for-13 since coming off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, went 3-for-4 and also made two dazzling plays at shortstop. It was the best sign yet that Furcal, who possibly could have used more minor league rehabilitation time to allow his body to get accustomed to the rigors of playing every day, finally seems to be finding his legs -- although he did also commit his fourth error in five games since returning.
Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger was limited to three innings -- he gave up three runs and six hits -- in his fourth and final rehabilitation start for high Class A Inland Empire on Saturday night.
Haeger, who was shelved because he was alleged to be suffering from plantar fasciitis at a time when he was pitching badly and the Dodgers needed a roster spot, will be activated sometime between now and Tuesday and start for the Dodgers that night against Arizona. He will be pitching on two days' rest, which is why his start against Bakersfield on Saturday was kept so short.
The Dodgers will try to break even on their six-game trip when left-hander Clayton Kershaw (4-3, 2.90) takes the mound against the team he shut out on two hits over eight innings May 9, the day the Dodgers started a nine-game winning streak. The Rockies will send rookie right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (3-2, 3.09), the guy who shut out the Dodgers on six hits over 7 1/3 innings the night before Kershaw's masterpiece.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
2dKevin Van Valkenburg