‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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When the Yankees added Hiroki Kuroda, some questioned whether it wise for them to sign a 37-year-old who never pitched in the American League.

The Yankees have a long history of acquiring star pitchers from the National League that weren’t able to make the transition.  Kuroda has been the exception to the rule.

Kuroda has gone beyond expectations.  He’s mastered the AL and gave the Yankees their best pitching performance of the season Tuesday night.

Texas boasts a deep lineup full of All-Star caliber talent, but Kurdoa silenced the Rangers’ bats at Yankee Stadium.

He shut down the middle of the Rangers’ lineup.  Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz went a combined 0-for-9 with three strikeouts and four runners left on base.

Kuroda spun a gem as he went the distance by throwing a complete game, two-hit shutout over the strongest lineup in all of baseball.

Manager Joe Girardi was thrilled by Kuroda’s performance.

“This is a very good lineup that he just shut down,” he said. “Probably our best pitching performance of the year.”

It also might be a preview of things to come in October.  Kuroda seems to have a coolness about him that should serve the Yankees well in the playoffs.

Outside of his disastrous start against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the 2009 NLCS, his small sample of postseason numbers has been pretty solid.

You can’t really determine much from three playoff starts against NL opponents.  It’s more about feel with Kuroda.  He’s been as trustworthy as they come and is worth every penny of his $10 million base salary.

With CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte battling injuries, Kuroda taken on the responsibility of being the Yankees’ ace while their rotation is ailing.

His ERA of 3.06 and 1.15 WHIP are both eighth-best among AL pitchers.  He’s not what you’d call a prototypical ‘power pitcher,’ but Kuroda’s velocity has longevity in late innings.  His numbers on the radar gun tend to stay consistent from the first inning to the time he departs the mound.

Kuroda has been ‘Mr. Consistent’ for the Yankees.  He’s adapted to the American League like a duck to water.

“He’s been really, really big for us and he could have a number of more wins. He’s been the hard-luck guy for us this year,” Girardi said after Tuesday’s victory. “That was his 11th win for us. Realistically, he could have 15 or 16 at this juncture.”

Amazingly, his numbers have gotten better each season in the majors since coming over from Japan before the 2008 season.  Kuroda’s ERA has dropped every season in the major leagues and his 2012 WHIP is the best of his career.

Before coming to the Yankees, Kuroda only posted two career shutouts in four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Last night’s dominating of the Rangers took his 2012 shutout total to 2.

Kuroda is like a fine wine.  Unlike most starters, he’s actually gotten better with age.  The Yankees couldn’t have asked for more than what Kuroda is giving them every time he takes the mound.

How vital has Kuroda been to a banged-up Yankees rotation?   Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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