Hiroki Kuroda Holds The Key To The LA Dodgers' Pitching Staff

Kyle HuguesContributor IMarch 12, 2010

Baseball is a game of numbers and here are a few that influenced the Dodgers and Hiroki Kuroda last season: 117.1 innings pitched, 20 games started, 12 HR allowed and a 40.50 postseason ERA.

Many insiders and fans alike criticize the Dodgers for the lack of offseason pick-ups after another loss to the Phillies in the NLCS.

The fact is, the Dodgers made it to the NLCS again, and believe they have what it takes to make it there and beyond this upcoming season. 

A simple response to the offseason signings, or lack there of: You can't change what can't be controlled, rather, work with what you have.

The division has gotten stronger, and in order to make a "threepeat" in the NL West, the boys in blue have questions that must be answered on the field.

The entire league knows Clayton Kershaw is going to be better, how much better is yet to be known.

Chad Billingsley tanked after making his first All-Star team, but being young gives him a much higher chance of rebounding to "old" form. 

Yet the key in the rotation is held by Hiroki Kuroda.

He is a ground ball pitcher, who has shown signs of throwing harder than in his first Major League season.

This could mean a couple things.

One, like many pitchers as they get older, they begin to throw harder due to the fact their arsenal is not as sharp as in their prime.

Another could be, he is becoming more sound mechanically as he enters just his third MLB year.

Now it's interesting Kuroda gave up nearly as many home runs last season in 66 less innings pitched than the year previous. That stat could possibly be contributed to the fact that he was bouncing back from the DL for the entire season.

It is still very interesting given the fact he is mainly a pitcher that keeps the ball on the ground.

Kuroda has proved he is a no-nonsense competitor with a gamers mentality. (A quality shared by many Japanese players)

In his rookie season, he won his only two starts in the postseason, shutting out the Cubs in six innings pitched during the 2008 NLDS.

When the Dodgers squared off against the Phillies, Kuroda delivered a high fast ball to Shane Victornio, barely missing his head. This wasn't a surprise, but it was Kuroda's defining Dodgers' moment.

After Russell Martin had continuously been plunked and Manny was thrown behind during the series, Kuroda was the first pitcher to step-up and defend his teammates. The crafty right-hander eventually went on to win the game.

Now it is 2010 and Kuroda is coming off a season blasted by injuries.

He pulled an oblique, got rocked in the head by a screaming line drive, and experienced a bulging disk in his neck during the 2009 postseason. In his only start in that postseason, the Dodgers pitcher gave up six runs in a little over one inning, to who else?

The Phillies.

Knowing what kind of make up this man has, it wouldn't be a shock to see him rebound to have his best season to date. If that rings true then the Dodgers should have a very consistent starting staff, and a competitive threat deep into the playoffs.

The key as always is staying healthy, and if that happens, look for Kuroda to be the spine of the staff. 



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