The New York Yankees really need Hiroki Kuroda to be the pitcher he was in the first half if they have any intention on reaching the postseason.
The Japanese right-hander goes after his first win in seven starts on Thursday when the Yankees play the rubber match of their three-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Kuroda was one of the best pitchers in baseball through the first four months of the season, as he went 10-6 with a 2.38 ERA at the start of August. However, he is just 1-5 since then and has pitched to a 6.69 ERA over his last six starts (0-4).
He gave up five runs over six innings in a loss on Friday at Boston, although he settled in after a four-run first.
"As a starter, I think my responsibility is to go at least six or seven innings," Kuroda said afterward through an interpreter. "That's what I'm telling myself to do."
One of Kuroda's bad outings came in Toronto back on Aug. 28, when he allowed seven runs (5 earned) in five innings. He is 4-2, though, in his career against the Jays with a 3.71 ERA.
New York kept its fleeting postseason hopes alive on Wednesday, as Vernon Wells' two-run double in the top of the eighth inning capped a late rally that propelled the Yankees to a much-needed 4-3 win.
The Yankees averted a fifth straight loss by putting up four runs in the eighth, with Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano each coming through with RBI hits in front of Wells' go-ahead double. The victory also closed New York within 2 1/2 games of Texas for the AL's second wild card spot.
David Huff (3-1) contributed to the comeback by tossing 3 2/3 innings of one- run ball in relief of starter Phil Hughes, while Mariano Rivera shut the door with a four-out save in which he worked out of a mild jam in the ninth.
Toronto received a two-run homer from Colby Rasmus, his fourth in as many games, and a solo shot from Ryan Goins, but had just six other hits and fell to 2-6 on its current nine-game homestand.
J.A. Happ threw seven-plus strong innings for the Blue Jays in a no-decision, permitting just one run on four hits while striking out a season-high seven. Steve Delabar (5-5) was tagged with the loss after surrendering two runs on three hits and registering only one out in the eighth.
"I've just happened to hit a rough bump lately, but it's not going to change my mindset from day to day," said Delbar. "I'm going to come back tomorrow and get right back at it."
Heading to the hill for the Jays on Thursday will be righty Todd Redmond, who is 3-2 with a 4.10 ERA. Redmond did not get a decision Friday against Baltimore, despite a solid outing that saw him allow just a run and three hits in 6 1/3 innings of a 5-3 loss.
Redmond was on the other end of the Kuroda loss back on Aug. 28 and held the Yanks to two runs in 5 2/3 innings of that one.
New York has won 14 of its 18 meetings with the Jays this season. In fact, since 2001, Toronto has won the head-to-head matchup with New York just one time, going 10-8 against the Yanks in '10.