TAMPA, Fla. -- Hiroki Kuroda has made more difficult transitions than switching from the National League to the American League.
Kuroda, 37, has moved from Japanese professional baseball to the Major Leagues, and he's adjusted to American culture after living most of his life in Japan. He had to learn about the concept of tipping at restaurants, for example, because he said that's not something they do in Japan.
"On a personal level, there were many adjustments that I had to make," Kuroda said through a translator. "But when you're in Rome, do what the Romans do. That's pretty much what I did."
After joining the Dodgers in 2008 and playing in Los Angeles for four years, Kuroda has already made a positive impression on his new club.
Kuroda threw a "very impressive" bullpen session Thursday morning, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, and the club is excited about what Kuroda brings to the table. Girardi often mentions Kuroda's veteran presence as well as his impressive stuff that covers both sides of the plate. He's already pitched in a big market with the Dodgers, too, so the pressure of playing in New York shouldn't be especially overwhelming.
As an added bonus, Kuroda will be throwing to Russell Martin, a former Dodgers teammate who helped him get acclimated in Los Angeles.
"He's the first catcher that caught me when I came to the States, and he knows what kind of pitcher I am, what kind of pitches I have," Kuroda said. "He's one of those great catchers that helps all the pitchers. He calls a really good game, so he's been a good help for me."
Yanks share some laughs at Tampa improv
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees let loose a little Thursday, participating in improvisational skits and activities at the Tampa Improv in Ybor City for their annual team-bonding outing.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi hoped the idea would help the team relax, laugh and get more comfortable as a group. Based on comments from Nick Swisher and Ivan Nova following the trip, his plan worked.
"It's always awesome. I think [Girardi] does such a great job of stressing that word camaraderie, of stressing that word team," Swisher said. "I feel that when you do things away from the ballpark together, I think that brings you closer. And with as much fun as we all have together, it's rare that you can get everybody together in a comfortable environment.
"I think all of us went in there with an open mind -- to have a great time, and it was just a great team-building exercise. I think that there's a buzz in the locker room that we haven't had in a couple years, and we feel like we've got a pretty good squad. Now, all we've got to do is put it together. Exercises like that, it's like an old-school field trip. We get on the bus, we go somewhere and the only thing now is that we don't have to sign permission slips. But it's great, [Girardi] does such a great job with this, it's something so out of the norm, and I'm a major fan of it."
Girardi said that atmosphere is especially beneficial for younger players, particularly those future mid-season callups who will already be overwhelmed by moving and playing in the big leagues. The last thing they should have to worry about, he said, is feeling comfortable in their own clubhouse.
"I just feel like it's important they feel like they belong," Girardi said. "And if they do walk through that door in April, May, June, July, they're comfortable and they've had conversations with the guys that maybe last year they didn't. I think that's the benefit of it."
Swisher said everyone participated -- even veterans like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera, and named Mark Teixeira the "MVP" of the event. Nova also said he saw Teixeira "in a way you could have never imagined."
"I love days like today, because we grow closer as a team. We had fun," Nova added. "Everyone was laughing, but we were laughing with respect for each other. Everyone was pulling for one another, even though we were on different teams, because we all care for each other."
Though he kept the details to a minimum, Swisher said it was his favorite team-building trip yet.
"Number one, no doubt," Swisher said. "This and Old Timer's Day are my two favorite days of the year.
Girardi thinks new playoff will add excitement
TAMPA, Fla. -- With talks ongoing between Major League Baseball and the Players Association on adding another Wild Card for the 2012 playoffs, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he was all in favor of the new format, though he'd like to see it come with a balanced schedule.
"I'm not sure if there's any cons," Girardi said of the changes, which are not yet official. "It adds more teams to the mix, keeps more teams in it for a longer period of time. The one-game playoff, if you're in a division race, you don't want to be in that one-game playoff. Your motivation is to win the division because that becomes much, much tougher.
"That will provide a lot of excitement. I like it. The other thing it does is it gives more of an advantage to the division winners, which I think they deserve."
There are a few drawbacks, of course. If the first Wild Card team finishes with a significantly better record than the second Wild Card, wouldn't the former have already proven itself more worthy of the postseason than the latter? Yes, Girardi said, but the team with the better record can also begin to set up its rotation for that one-game playoff better than the club fighting to earn the last spot.
"I don't really think that there's a perfect system," he said. "I think the only way you could have a perfect system is if the schedules were completely balanced and you had four divisions or two divisions, and you had one team from each division to play. So, I don't think it's ever going to be a perfect system. I don't think they're looking for one. I think they're looking to create excitement."
Girardi was also on board with the new rule that a team can play another club from its own division in the Division Series, even if it will open the door for the Yankees to potentially play the Red Sox or Rays.
"I don't have a problem with that, because it's by record. That's why I'm a big proponent of a balanced schedule. It just, to me, makes everything seem a little bit more right in my mind."
Robinson Cano was back in the Yankees' clubhouse Thursday morning, having returned from the Dominican Republic to attend his grandmother's funeral. He said his grandmother raised his father, always went by her nickname, Lelen, and died of cancer. She was 91.
Cano often visited her hometown of Soco, where he used to practice, and he had been there only a few days before reporting to Yankees camp in Tampa. She never made it to the U.S. to see him play, but often watched him in the Dominican Republic, caught his games on TV and knew all about his success in the Majors.
"We were really close to her," Cano said. "She always says, 'I'm proud of you,' and stuff like that, and I always go there and take care of them."
Cano won't take the field until Sunday after taking a few days off to return to the Dominican Republic, but the rest of the Yankees' regulars are slated to play Friday against the University of South Florida. Any players scheduled to play Saturday will get only one at-bat, while the other starters should get two at-bats.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi also announced the seven pitchers he plans to use in Friday's game: Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, Dan Burawa, Juan Cedeno, Graham Stoneburner, Ryan Pope and Kevin Whelan.
Right-hander Manny Delcarmen will be out four or five days with a slight strain in his right lat muscle, Girardi said Thursday. That brings the club's total to five injured players, as Delcarmen joins catcher Austin Romine, first baseman Russell Branyan, catcher Kyle Higashioka and righty George Kontos.
Girardi said Thursday that he has been happier with what he's seen in this year's camp, particularly from his pitchers, than in any of his previous years as a manager. He attributed that to his club's experience, the development of its top prospects and the overall depth.
"Hopefully that moves right into the games in Spring Training and it moves right into the year," Girardi said. "Every day I walk away, I've said, 'Wow, that was good.'"
Amber Sabathia, wife of CC and the Executive Director of the PitCCh In Foundation, visited the Boys & Girls Club of Newark on Thursday, donating $25,000 toward supporting the Club's current core programs, annual summer camp and college campus tours. She also toured the facility and spent time with the children at the Central Ward Unit.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.