Hiroki Kuroda came to the Dodgers before the 2008 season. Since then, when healthy, Kuroda has been arguably the most consistent Dodgers starter. On Monday, he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, a great hitting team. Going into his free-agent year, the 35-year-old right-hander has pitched well, though his record doesn't reflect it because of the Dodgers' low offensive production. Although I think the Dodgers should retain Kuroda, the likelihood of this is poor in lieu of the team's financial situation.
Kuroda followed in the footsteps of Hideo Nomo, Kaz Ishii, and Takashi Saito when he chose to leave Japan and pitch for the Dodgers. Nomo started the infusion of Japanese players into American baseball. Before Nomo challenged the status quo, professional players from Japan weren't allowed to come to America to play professional baseball. Nomo exhibited incredible courage to walk away from millions of dollars to risk baseball failure. However, Nomo had a dream of pitching in the best baseball league in the world.
Though Nomo didn't always experience success in America, especially after an injury, he changed the face of the Major Leagues. In 1995, after a miserable eight-month baseball work stoppage, Nomo came and created a sensation that helped bring fans back to the National Pastime. In that year, he started the All-Star Game on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Nomo is the only pitcher to hurl a no-hitter at Coors Field. He also had a no-hitter against Tampa Bay as a member of the Boston Red Sox. I know some pitchers had thrown a split-fingered fastball before Nomo came to the Dodgers, but they didn't experience as much success with it as Nomo did. To me, Nomo belongs in the Hall of Fame for his excellence, his courage to leave his home country to pursue his dream, and his ability to help with the globalization of baseball.
Kuroda was an accomplished pitcher in Japan when he came to the Dodgers. In 1997, he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year. During a six-year span, he led the league in complete games. Around the league, many people viewed Kuroda as the best pitcher in Japan. Twice he represented Japan at the Olympics, and in 2004 he helped his country earn the bronze medal.
Kuroda is a power pitcher with a good splitter and a slider. In 2005, he developed a two-seam fastball -- sinker. Since he has almost flawless control, he can go deep into games. He fields his position well. Before Monday, he had no hits this season, but he can bunt reasonably well.
When Kuroda decided to come to the American major leagues after the 2007 season, teams made bids to earn negotiating rights with him. The Dodgers won those negotiating rights and Kuroda accepted a three-year contract worth $35.3 million.
Kuroda has been a quality starter for the Dodgers. In his rookie season, though he missed some time with shoulder tendonitis, he pitched well. He became the first rookie Dodgers pitcher to carry a perfect game into the eighth inning since Orel Hershiser did it in 1984. He was the first Dodgers pitcher to have a one-hitter since Derek Lowe's in August 2005. Kuroda also played a significant role in the playoffs.
Joe Torre rewarded Kuroda for having a splendid rookie performance, especially in the playoffs, with an Opening Day start in 2009. Though Kuroda pitched well when he could, he battled injuries that year. During August, a line drive hit Kuroda's head. He wasn't seriously injured, but he had recurring headaches and a bulging disc in his neck. He impressed everyone with his comeback. Torre asked Kuroda to pitch in the National League Championship Series against the Phillies, and he was clobbered.
This season Kuroda has pitched well, though he hasn't been supported well offensively. Though he has a losing record, he has a 2.56 ERA since the All-Star break. On Monday, after Shane Victorino's single broke up his no-hitter, the crowd at Dodger Stadium gave Kuroda a standing ovation. He couldn't complete the game, but his magnificent performance prevented the Phillies from sweeping the Dodgers.
I know Kuroda would like to re-sign with the Dodgers. The team will need him next year, because Vicente Padilla and Ted Lilly are also free agents. During this season, people have seen that the Dodgers lack starting-pitching depth. If the Dodgers have the money to retain Kuroda and spend it on an almost 36-year-old pitcher, in my opinion, it would be a good investment.
Sarah D. Morris is the editor of Sarah's Dodger Place. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.