Had Hiroki Kuroda faced Boston earlier this season as he began his tenure with the New York Yankees, he would have likely put forth an unpredictable outing.
The right-hander has started to figure out the American League though and gets his first taste of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry this evening in the opener of a four-game series.
Kuroda takes the hill for the first contest of this extended set, which features a doubleheader on Saturday due to an April 22 postponement, having gone 5-1 over his last seven outings with a 1.65 earned run average. The former Dodger had gone 3-6 while pitching to a 4.56 ERA in his first nine starts after signing a one-year, $10 million deal in the offseason.
The 37-year-old threw hit third scoreless outing over his seven-start run on Saturday against the White Sox. Kuroda scattered three hits and a walk over seven frames and matched a career high with 11 strikeouts. He cited his growing familiarity with the American League for his new success.
"I think I've been really aggressive lately," said Kuroda. "Earlier in the season, I was facing a lot of hitters that I hadn't faced before, so I tried to be careful to hit those corners and I got behind in the count many times. Now, I try to be as aggressive as possible."
Kuroda now stands at 8-7 on the season with a 3.17 ERA and will face the Red Sox for the second time in his career. The first encounter came on June 20, 2010 and he lost despite throwing seven innings of two-run ball while fanning nine.
The Red Sox will counter with Josh Beckett, one of the few pitchers to have success against the Bronx Bombers in 2011. Beckett was the only major leaguer to win more than two games against the Yankees last season as he was an outstanding 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA in five outings.
Beckett is 14-7 lifetime versus New York despite a 5.36 ERA.
The right-hander had lost three straight starts before landing on the disabled list due to right shoulder inflammation following a June 11 outing. He made an encouraging return on Sunday in Seattle, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning before yielding two runs on four hits and three walks over six frames. Beckett left with the score tied and did not get a decision in his team's 3-2 loss.
Beckett, though, did see his winless streak extended to five consecutive outings and hasn't won since May 20. The 32-year-old is 4-7 with a 4.06 ERA in 13 starts this season.
The Red Sox hope to take full advantage of their opportunity to cut into the Yankees' lead atop the American League East. Fourth-place Boston sits 7 1/2 games back of New York, which leads second-place Baltimore by 5 1/2 games.
Momentum is not on the Red Sox's side though as they are coming off a 2-5 road trip that concluded with a three-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics. Boston scored 14 runs on the swing and dropped Wednesday's finale 3-2.
David Ortiz reached a milestone by belting his 400th career homer, a game- tying shot in the fourth inning that made him the 49th player in major league history to reach the mark.
The rest of the offense stumbled, though, and Aaron Cook took a loss after giving up three runs over six-plus innings.
"He did what he had to do to give us a victory here," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. "A couple of balls were hit in the air and hurt him a little. He got a lot of ground balls. He was efficient with his pitching and got us in the dugout quick. We didn't help out a lot with the runs."
The Yankees opened up a string of road games with two losses to the Rays before taking Wednesday's finale 4-3. New York had lost four of six prior to the win and snapped a nine-game slide at Tropicana Field.
"A tremendous win for us because this has been a tough place (to play) the first half of the season for us," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Robinson Cano continued his All-Star first half, hitting a go-ahead, two-run single in the eighth inning. He has driven in at least a run in a career-high eight straight games and has a hit in 11 in row.
Cano, the captain for the AL's Home Run Derby team, is hitting .316 on the season with 20 homers and 50 RBI and is a career .324 batter versus Beckett with three homers and 13 RBI.
The Yankees swept that rain shortened two-game set in Boston in late April, giving them a victory in six of their past eight versus the Red Sox. They have also won four of their last five at Fenway Park.