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Daily Dodger in review: Hiroki Kuroda makes pitch to stay

Hiroki-kuroda_600

HIROKI KURODA, 36, starting pitcher

Final 2011 stats: 13-16, 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings, .254 opponent batting average in 202 innings.

Contract status: Free agent.

The good: Kuroda was remarkably consistent. He had a small bump in May when he had a 4.02 ERA, but the other five months he combined for a 2.90 ERA. His strikeouts, innings and victory totals were career-highs. Batters hit just .189 against him with runners in scoring position.

The bad: Not a whole lot there. Gave up 24 home runs. His win-loss record was unimpressive, but not much of that cannot be blamed on him. The Dodgers struggled to score him runs the first two-thirds of the year –- they averaged 5.52 runs for Kuroda on the season, ranking 71st among major league starters –- or he would have had a more impressive record.

What’s next: Will he stay or will he go now?

The Dodgers want him back and could certainly use him. GM Ned Colletti said he would give Kuroda some time after the season to determine if he wanted to return. Retirement doesn’t appear to be an option, but he could go back to pitch a final season in Japan.

The take: And there was a time when that’s exactly what I suspected he would do. He was a treasured star for the Hiroshima Carp, a second-tier team mostly devoid of starts. Figured loyalty called him back to finish his career where it started.

Only now I’m not so sure, which doesn’t mean with Kuroda I have any particular insight. Remember, he is a different cat. When the Dodgers wanted to trade him at the deadline to a contending team, he refused. Instead of playing in the postseason –- a la Rafael Furcal –- he stayed in Los Angeles to pitch for a third-place team out of playoff contention.

He got a pass on lacking competitive juices because of some supposed cultural divide, which I never bought for a second. Now I’ve decided that he just likes it here. He’s purchased a home in Los Angeles, his kids are in school here, he’s become comfortable living and working in Southern California. He’s also made over $47 million in his four years here; guess that would make plenty comfortable here.

I’m leaning on him returning, a good thing for a Dodgers team with only three other current starters. He’ll have to take a pay cut, but when you’re working down from $12 million, that ain’t too tough a duty.

Kuroda is a steady presence on the mound and in the clubhouse. He’s still throwing as well as ever, and even if he takes a slight step back, he’ll remain a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Dodgers starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda works against the Angels during an interleague game this summer. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

 
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