Will Dodgers Say 'Sayonara' to Kuroda?

Not many of the Dodgers' free agent signings in recent years have paid off, especially those for multiple years. The investment in Hiroki Kuroda was not a steal or a smashing success, but overall, it worked. So if Kuroda just made his last start with the Dodgers on Wednesday night, his 3 2/3 years with the team will be looked back on favorably for his professionalism and steadiness.

Fittingly, his last start was like most this year: no run support. Kuroda allowed one run in six innings, departed after 112 pitches trailing 1-0, and the Dodgers lost 3-1 to end their winning streak at four games.

In Kuroda's 21 starts this season, the Dodgers have averaged 2.8 runs. In his 13 losses, that number shrinks to 2.1. And if this was Kuroda's swan song, it was the perfect sendoff -- the Dodgers never really came close to scoring against Rockies, their only run coming on a one-out, ninth-inning homer by Rod Barajas.

Kuroda was never a Cy Young candidate but never the object of scorn on the post-game call-in show.

He never did learn English to the extent originally planned, but he adapted to the culture of the American game, such as pitching once every five days (instead of once a week in Japan). He defended his teammates after he was hit in a memorable playoff game and returned after a scary blow to the head.

As he assimilated, he got better. His ERA was 3.73 in 2008 and 3.76 in 2009, then 3.39 last year. The Dodgers paid him $35.3 million for those numbers.

This past offseason, Kuroda signed up for one more year at $12 million. His numbers this year: a 6-13 record that should be way better considering his 3.11 ERA, 36 walks (five intentional) in 133 innings.

"Hiro's been great for me," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's been solid. That model of consistency. He does what you ask him to do, keeps you in every game. He does well against everybody. He always gives you a chance."

The first big wave of trades came Wednesday, including starter Edwin Jackson getting traded twice. Kuroda is likely the most prominent starting pitcher on the market unless the Rockies part ways with Ubaldo Jimenez.

The five teams most interested in Kuroda are the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Rangers and Indians.

If traded, his new team will find a consistent pitcher who -- if his Dodgers tenure is any indication -- won't be a Game 1 starter but will be a big game starter.

The 35-year-old said he hasn't spent significant time pondering his options. He acknowledged that would change over the next several days. "I obviously I have to think it about more," he said. "But, first, my agent will have to tell me what my options are." Kuroda and his family have called Los Angeles home for the last four years. The city has a large Japanese community. His daughters attend school in the area. "At this point, I can't imagine myself wearing another uniform," he said.

Kuroda started the fourth game of the 2008 season in his U.S. debut. In the playoffs that year, Kuroda started the Game 3 sweep-clincher against the Cubs in the Division Series, then recorded their only victory against the Phillies in the NLCS.

Mattingly will always remember that start against the Phillies. The Dodgers were down 2-0 entering Game 3. A number of pitches came up and inside to Dodgers hitters, including Manny Ramirez, and Kuroda knocked down Shane Victorino in retaliation.

In Japan, it's not in the culture to "get even" with an opponent if a teammate gets hit by a pitch or brushed back a lot. Kuroda did it anyway, forever gaining the respect of his teammates.

"It's about a team and protection," Mattingly said. "It's about protecting your guys and fighting for your family. It shows you he is willing to do that."

Based largely on those playoff performances, Kuroda started on Opening Day in 2009 and defeated the Padres. Later that year came another memorable start at Arizona, when Kuroda was hit in the head by a line drive and was rushed to the hospital.

Kuroda returned to pitch later that year even though he had a lingering neck problem. He wasn't needed in the sweep of the Cardinals in the Division Series and got knocked out early against the Phillies in the NLCS.

In 2010, Kuroda went back to the fourth spot in the rotation and enjoyed his first season without needing a trip to the disabled list (after once in 2008 and twice in 2009). This year, he has been plagued by run support. The Dodgers scored 20 runs in his last 11 starts. But that's nothing new. In 11 seasons with Hiroshima in the Japanese Central League, he played for an underfunded team that didn't score many runs. (Sound familiar?)

For that, in Japan, he was revered and beloved.

For that, in the United States, he was never loved but simply respected and appreciated.

Winning streak creates dilemma for Colletti
For players, September and October are when their reputations are built and their legacies are cemented.

For executives, the last two weeks in July are when they feel the most pressure, when their decisions can change the direction of a franchise for years, and when their own reputations are built.

Some years, the "buy or sell" decisions are obvious. For the Dodgers, this is a year that looks obvious from the outside but is suddenly becoming a difficult decision.

The Dodgers won their fourth in a row Tuesday night, riding the pitching of Clayton Kershaw, the bat and legs of Matt Kemp, and the relief of Matt Guerrier and Kenley Jansen to a 3-2 win over the Rockies and closed within a win of third place.

They are 10 games under .500. They are still 13 games out of first place. Those results usually indicate a team will be a seller.

Did that winning streak change the strategy of Dodgers GM Ned Colletti? This probably wouldn't change the mind of most GMs. But Colletti is different. He's never been a seller, and he has looked for any reason to believe his team can get back into contention.

Does Colletti still play contending teams against each other for the biggest haul of prospects to get pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, the most coveted starting pitcher on the trade market? Does Colletti still look for undervalued gems in other teams' farm systems for players such as Jamey Carroll, Rafael Furcal and Mike MacDougal?

Does he suddenly become a buyer? (If so, with what money, getting the approval of whom?) Or does he simply stand pat and keep the status quo?

Kuroda started on Wednesday in perhaps his final outing as a Dodger, as he tries to lead the only team he's known in the United States to a sweep of the Rockies. His performance could convince his GM to keep him.

The constant off-the-field news provides the backdrop.

Does owner Frank McCourt suddenly open his (borrowed) wallet and instruct Colletti to go for broke in a last-ditch effort to win back the fans? Do executives in Major League Baseball's office want the value of the Dodgers increased by a miracle late run, fueled by new players?

Are Colletti's hands tied to keep payroll the same, even if he wants to add? Or is he under strict orders to save as many millions as possible by shedding salaries?

The first-place Giants, for whatever it's worth, are in the middle of a difficult portion of their schedule: a current road trip of Philadelphia and Cincinnati, followed by a homestand with Arizona, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. That's 16 straight games against playoff contenders through Aug. 10.

Four days ago, Colletti's decision was obvious. His team had lost five of seven games coming out of the All-Star break, including two of three apiece to the Giants and Diamondbacks.

Now, his team has won four straight. If they win Wednesday and win Friday against the D'backs, does that change anything?

This is why general managers don't sleep all that well this time of the year.

--C Rod Barajas continued his mastery of Huston Street with a solo homer in the ninth inning, the only Dodgers run. Barajas is 8-for-12 with two home runs against the Rockies' closer. It was his first RBI and second hit since coming off the disabled list after the All-Star break.

--LHP Scott Elbert pitched for the first time since July 18, getting the final two outs of the ninth inning. Elbert hasn't allowed a run in nine of his last 10 games, limiting hitters to a .120/.179/.160 slash line over that stretch.

--SS Rafael Furcal continued his recent surge with two hits and walk in four plate appearances. He has reached base safely 10 times in the last five games.

--3B Casey Blake took grounders during batting practice Wednesday, and he will be the designated hitter Thursday for Class A Rancho Cucamonga to start a rehab assignment. Blake has been sidelined for three weeks because of a cervical strain in his neck.

--RHP Kenley Jansen was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat shortly after getting the save Tuesday night. He was schedule to remain in the hospital until Thursday afternoon. Medication didn't correct the problem, so Jansen underwent cardio conversion to shock the heart back into its normal rhythm. (Former reliever Joe Beimel received the same treatment a couple years ago and pitched two days later.) Jansen doesn't have a history of irregular heartbeat, and the Dodgers don't believe it will require a trip to the disabled list or affect his career. In fact, manager Don Mattingly said Jansen might even be able to pitch again by Saturday. Jansen had pitched in three straight games, so he was going to be unavailable Wednesday anyway, and the Dodgers are off Thursday.

--LHP Clayton Kershaw threw a career-high 125 pitches Wednesday but recorded his 12th victory. He allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings, on 10 baserunners, and struck out "only" six.

--RHP Matt Guerrier bailed out Kershaw in the seventh inning. With a one-run lead and the tying run at third, manager Don Mattingly elected to pitch to Troy Tulowitzki instead of intentionally walking him with first base open. On the second pitch, Tulowitzki hit a soft tapper in front of home plate, and catcher Dioner Navarro threw him out. Guerrier then worked a scoreless eighth inning.

--CF Matt Kemp doubled home two runs in the fourth inning, then scored from third on a sacrifice fly to the second baseman. Yes, the second baseman. Mark Ellis caught the ball going backward and took a spill over sliding right fielder Ryan Spilborghs. Kemp, who was going at least halfway no matter what, scored easily.

--INF Juan Uribe's MRI showed some inflammation in the abdominal area but nothing too serious. The Dodgers consider it a similar injury to the one he suffered in Chicago earlier this year. That time, it put Uribe on the disabled list. This time, they don't think it will, but Uribe didn't play for a third straight game.

BY THE NUMBERS: .358 -- Career batting average for Jamey Carroll against the Rockies, one of his former teams. Carroll went 2-for-3 on Tuesday, and that .358 average (38-for-106) is the fifth highest against Colorado among active players.

BY THE NUMBERS: 9.28 -- Strikeouts per nine innings this month by the Dodgers pitching staff. If the month were to end now, that would be the third-highest monthly mark in Major League history behind the Cubs (9.70 in August 2002 and 9.53 in September 2006). Clayton Kershaw is a big reason, with 45 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. Kenley Jansen is another with 17 whiffs in 10 innings.

QUOTE TO NOTE I: "Anybody that struggles one time out, you don't want to let them sit there and think about it for four days. You'd like to be able to use him. Obviously, it's the situation. I'm not gonna use him just to use him." -- Manager Don Mattingly, on wanting to get Hong-Chih Kuo back into a game quickly after his very wild Monday night. Kuo walked two of the four batters he faced, uncorked two wild pitches (one hit the backstop on the fly) and threw only five of 17 pitches for strikes. There wasn't a chance to use Kuo in Tuesday's game.

QUOTE TO NOTE II: "Anytime you have an irregular heartbeat, we take it pretty seriously. They were able to get his heart back into normal sinus rhythm. The next 24 hours will tell us what we want to do next." -- Dodgers medical services director Stan Conte, on the irregular heartbeat that sent stud reliever Kenley Jansen to the hospital Tuesday night.

--3B Casey Blake (sore neck) went on the 15-day disabled list July 3. He had been playing through the ailment for several weeks. The injury wasn't healing as quickly as expected as of mid-July, so Blake's return was delayed. He is scheduled to start a rehab assignment July 28.

--RHP Jonathan Broxton (bone bruise on right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 4. He threw a bullpen session June 7. He made rehab appearances on June 21 and 23 for Class AAA Albuquerque, but he felt tightness in his elbow when playing catch June 25, and he was shut down from throwing. He had yet to resume throwing as of July 18. There is a chance he might not pitch again for the Dodgers this season (or ever?).

--RHP Vicente Padilla (right radial nerve irritation) went on the 15-day disabled list May 14. He began a rehab assignment with Class A Rancho Cucamonga on May 29, but was shut down in early June due to a neck ailment. He underwent neck surgery June 16, and he likely will miss the rest of the season.

--RHP Jon Garland (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 2. He played catch June 21 but had to shut it down quickly. He underwent season-ending surgery during the All-Star break and began his rehab.

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