Commentary

Kuroda's bad outing just the start

Awful Game 3 showing by righty puts Dodgers' rotation in turmoil for rest of NLCS

Originally Published: October 18, 2009
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

PHILADELPHIA -- Soon after facing two large sets of media -- the first from Japan and the second from the United States -- Hiroki Kuroda walked to the Dodgers' clubhouse after answering the final question, puffed his cheeks and exhaled. Trapped by a phalanx of reporters, Kuroda appeared almost as if he had just endured an interrogation.

The crime was simple: Kuroda -- who allowed six runs in just 1 1/3 innings, the shortest outing of his major league career -- was guilty of throwing the Dodgers' rotation into utter chaos for the rest of the NLCS.

As a result of Sunday's 11-0 loss to the Phillies, Los Angeles won't commit to a starter for Game 5. What's worse, if the Dodgers push the series to a Game 7, the choices to start would likely be between Kuroda, who prior to Sunday's start had not pitched since Sept. 28, and Chad Billingsley, last year's NLCS Game 1 starter and the Dodgers' Opening Day starter this season, who has been banished to the bullpen after a disastrous September.

"With some of the off days, there's some maneuverability," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said of how the team's rotation for the remainder of the series would shape up. "There's some room to adjust."

The Dodgers were so reluctant to start Billingsley (who had a 5.16 ERA in September) in Sunday's Game 3 that both Honeycutt and manager Joe Torre went to Glendale, Ariz., on Tuesday to watch Kuroda pitch in a simulated game at the team's spring training complex.

Kuroda had missed almost three weeks with a herniated disk in his neck and was not on the team's roster for the NLDS against the Cardinals. By all accounts, Kuroda looked spectacular in Glendale. He had pitched so well that Honeycutt went out of his way to tell Torre how well Kuroda performed. Not only was Kuroda's velocity in fine form, he also had excellent command of all his pitches.

Yet almost immediately on Sunday, Kuroda was put on the defensive by the Phillies. He allowed four runs in the first inning, two of them coming on Ryan Howard's triple. Jayson Werth then followed with a two-run home run.

"I think I made it hard on myself because I couldn't throw a first-pitch strike," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "I know Joe Torre had a lot of expectations. It's just disappointing that I didn't come through."

Kuroda said he was not affected by the cold weather -- the game-time temperature at first pitch was 46 degrees -- nor would he admit to being hampered by his neck injury. Asked if he would admit that his neck was an issue, he said, "Honestly, it wasn't an issue."

Honeycutt said Kuroda never once complained about his neck.

[+] EnlargeHiroki Kuroda
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesHiroki Kuroda could not get out of the second inning of Game 3 against the Phillies.

In the bullpen before the game, Kuroda appeared to have command and velocity. In the first inning, Kuroda hit 92 mph. Clearly, Kuroda was at full strength.

"He never got anything established," Honeycutt said. "Normally, he has good movement on his fastball. I'm not sure he had the movement that he normally has."

Catcher Russell Martin simply said that Kuroda did not have command of his pitches.

"That was pretty much it," Martin said.

In relief, Billingsley allowed two runs in 3 1/3 innings. At times he appeared to regain some of the form that had made him, at one point, the Dodgers' best starter. He pitched a scoreless third and fourth innings, but allowed two runs in the fifth. Yet even this outing was not enough to save him from his current role. Honeycutt said that Billingsley likely would not pitch on Monday, but he would be available in the bullpen through Game 5.

Billingsley's role going forward would be dictated by Kuroda. If Kuroda wakes up on Monday feeling fine, then he's likely to start again in the series, meaning Billingsley would remain in the bullpen.

"I don't think we'd ask Kuroda to pitch out of the 'pen," Honeycutt said. "The main thing is that he's one of our starters."

Los Angeles' options for Game 5 would be Clayton Kershaw starting on six days' rest, or Vicente Padilla starting on normal rest. Whichever of the two does not start on Wednesday would likely start in Game 6, if necessary. Of course, that would leave Los Angeles with the daunting task of pitching Kuroda in Game 7.

What could be of consolation to the Dodgers is that prior to Sunday, Kuroda was 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA against the Phillies in three career regular-season starts. But perhaps the Phillies have finally figured out the Japanese veteran.

"The one thing is that I didn't have my pitches today," Kuroda said. "I don't know if they studied my pitches or not."

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.