Hiroki Kuroda Will Return to Japan But Fondly Remembered


Hiroki Kuroda is reportedly finishing his career right back where he started in Japan with his original team the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball. Even though Kuroda hasn’t pitched for the Dodgers since 2011, he remains one of my favorite pitchers. It was a bit heartbreaking to see Kuroda wear pinstripes over the past three seasons, but I will never forget his time in Blue.

Kuroda will play for the Carp on a one-year $3.3 million contract which could be his final season on the mound. Before the Japanese right-hander signed with the Dodgers prior to the 2008 season, he pitched for Hiroshima from 1997-2007. I’m sure this homecoming will be well received and appreciated by his long-time fans at home who have followed Kuroda’s career all the way to the Majors.

Kuroda will be celebrating his 40th birthday in February, and even though 2015 may be his last season, he still has a lot left in the tank. Last season with the Yankees, Kuroda went 11-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts. He was one inning away from pitching 200 innings for New York, and he pitched over 200 innings the three seasons prior. Hiroki always had great control, and he struck out 146 batters while only walking 35 last season.

It was always strange seeing Hiroki Kuroda in a Yankees uniform. Photo: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Ironically, the Yankees will have two former Dodgers in their forecasted starting rotation next season with Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano. Chris Capuano was one of the two pitchers along with Aaron Harang whom Ned Colletti opted to sign in 2012 in order to save money instead of re-signing Kuroda. At the time, I felt as though it was a very foolish choice by the Dodgers since Kuroda was durable and loyal during his four seasons with the Dodgers.

Kuroda finished his Major League career with a record of 79-79, 3.45 ERA and 986 strikeouts over 212 career games. With the Dodgers, Kuroda was 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA over four seasons.

I always hoped that Kuroda would be brought back by the Dodgers at some point before he returned to Japan, and I’m disheartened to hear that it will never happen. He was not only one of the best pitchers to come from Japan, but he was also one of the best to wear Blue for Los Angeles. I was almost angry when Frank McCourt let Kuroda go to New York three years ago, and I’m still bitter about that. It made it even more hurtful when Kuroda was reunited with former Dodger catcher Russell Martin in the Bronx as well.

Even though I will continue to miss Kuroda, I’m happy for his fans and family in Japan who get to enjoy watching him pitch for his original team and don his original number, 15.

It was a little over seven years ago when the Dodgers signed Kuroda to a three-year $35.3 million contract, but it seemed like yesterday that I watched him pitch at Dodger Stadium. It was in October 2008, during Game 3 of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, when Hiroki cemented his legacy as a Dodger. He pitched 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball, and the win helped the Dodgers complete the three-game sweep of the Cubs and advance to the NLCS. Kuroda went on to pitch well in the NLCS that season as well, and he secured his second postseason victory against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the NLCS. Those two victories would end up being Kuroda’s only postseason wins of his career.

We will never forget the fateful day on August 15, 2009 when Kuroda was pitching against the D-backs in the bottom of the sixth inning and was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Rusty Ryal. Dodger fans around the globe collectively held their breath as Kuroda was taken off the field on a stretcher. Kuroda was released the next day from the hospital, but I will never forget his bravery when he returned to the mound for the Dodgers.

Then there was his near no-hitter in August of 2010 which was broken up by future Dodger and all-time nuisance Shane Victorino in the eighth inning with a line drive single to right field. While Victorino was a Dodger momentarily, Kuroda will always be a Dodger in my heart.

Sayonara Hiroki.