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Signing of Hiroki Kuroda gives Dodgers imposing rotation

November 15, 2010 | 10:45 pm

Kuroda_300 Now that’s a nice start. Certainly an improvement over where the Dodgers were at this stage a year ago.

Bringing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda back for next season gives the Dodgers a formidable starting four in their rotation. Maybe not quite San Francisco Giants formidable, but certainly in the neighborhood.

The Dodgers ended last season assured of having only two starters back for next year, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, but have now re-signed Ted Lilly and Kuroda.

That’s a pretty impressive foursome. It certainly made for one after the Dodgers acquired Lilly from the Chicago Cubs on July 31. As’s Eric Stephen detailed, from that moment on Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly and Kuroda combined for 3.18 ERA in 45 starts.

Alas, the team went only 21-24 in those games, but that’s a reflection of how the offense performed, or underperformed.

Cliff Lee is the big dog of available starting free-agent pitchers, then things dramatically drop off. Many figured Kuroda was the second-best starter available.

Yet he chose not to even entertain offers from other teams, wanting to return to the Dodgers for one season at $12 million. He no doubt left millions on the table.

This indicates: 1) He was happy playing for the Dodgers and 2) he may yet to decide to return to Japan to finish his career.

Kuroda completed a three-year, $35.3-million contract last season, so even though he’s coming off his finest year with the Dodgers, they effectively got him at something of a discount. That’s called a good deal.

Of course, he will turn 36 in February, so his desire to sign for only one season was a nice break for the Dodgers. If he performs well again, he could always re-up for another season.

Last year his record was a deceptive 11-13. But his 3.39 ERA, 196 1/3 innings and 159 strikeouts were all career-highs. He was particularly effective after the All-Star break (2.87 ERA, .204 batting average).

There is still the fifth spot to fill, but for now General Manager Ned Colletti’s focus can turn to trying to identify a much-needed, serious bat.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Hiroki Kuroda. Credit: Ben Liebenberg / US Presswire