J-SLANTED: Darvish Vs. Kuroda: An Instant Classic

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By JORDAN IKEDA

For those that missed it, Tuesday night featured only the seventh-ever MLB matchup of Japanese starting pitchers. Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers stepped up to the mound and took on Hiroki Kuroda of the New York Yankees (still can’t get used to this).

After the first-inning homerun Kuroda gave up to Ian Kinsler, the game settled down into what will be remembered as a classic pitcher’s duel between the up-and-comer and the wily veteran. The 37-year-old Kuroda struck out five, walked one, and forced 12 grounders and two popups against the MLB’s best offense. Dodgers fans know that while he wasn’t always successful in big moments, he never shied away from them either.

It was an impressive outing from Kuroda, who has thus far alternated good and bad starts this year. As has been a common theme throughout his MLB career, his outing just wasn’t good enough.

Despite giving up seven hits, the 25-year-old Darvish was dominant, shutting out the MLB’s second-best offense over 8 1/3 innings and striking out 10, the most by a Texas pitcher this season. The manner in which he worked out of jams — including a third-inning, bases-loaded, no-outs situation — was ace-worthy. He is now 3-0 on the season and sports a glittering 2.42 ERA.

The best part, after the game, he said he believes that there is “still more” in him. Love how he abused the Yankees and then immediately was talking about how he can do better.

Every day the Daisuke Matsuzaka comparisons fade quicker into oblivion.

Just for the sake of reference, the last matchup of Japanese-born starters was a day after my 28th birthday on July 22, 2010, when it was Kuroda throwing eight scoreless innings (for the Los Angeles Dodgers) in a 2-0 win over New York (the Mets) and Hisanori Takahashi.

I’m not sure if I can call the switch a complete success, but for right now the Mariners seem to be winning (relative to last season) with Ichiro Suzuki batting out of the three hole. While it’s early still, the 38-year-old is on pace to blow away his previous career high of 69 ribbies, though he’s also stealing at a career-low pace.

The other Suzuki, Kurt of the Oakland A’s, finally lived up to his “clutch” moniker with a pinch-hit RBI double in the bottom of the eighth against the Chicago White Sox. Suzuki has really struggled this year, batting .200 over 60 at-bats.

While I’m glad he’s back at the MLB level, Travis Ishikawa has struggled at the plate and could be hacking his way back to the minors if he doesn’t figure it out soon. Kosuke Fukudome has struggled at the plate as well.

It’s too bad Norichika Aoki doesn’t have a full-time gig, because he’s proven he can play at this level in the limited at-bats he’s gotten with the Brewers. He’s sporting a .837 OPS.

Takashi Saito suffered another set back in his rehab of a calf injury. Darwin Barney has thus far followed up a terrific rookie campaign with an even better sophomore effort. As of Wednesday morning, he was batting .292 and showing more discipline at the plate.

And finally, looks like Hideki Matsui is hanging around for one more shot at the bright lights of the MLB. It was reported Tuesday that he has signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. He’ll start off at Triple AAA, and if he shows he’s still got it, Godzilla could get called up to the majors later this year.

Matsui, 37, hit .251 with 12 homers and 72 RBIs with the Oakland A’s last season and drew zero interest from MLB teams during the offseason, mostly because he’s only played 68 games in the field over the past four years.

I’m always saddened to see a great player in the latter stages of his career. I hope he has enough left to make it back to the majors and remind everyone why he won the World Series MVP three years ago.

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