LOS ANGELES -- Hiroki Kuroda threw long toss and ran poles Friday morning at Dodger Stadium, then met the media from two continents. Rounding himself into condition for his first American season at a time when the Dodgers need him to become one of the few Japanese starting pitchers to translate success in Japan into success in the Major Leagues, Kuroda, who will turn 33 on Feb. 10, expressed confidence that he can immediately contribute. But Kuroda also acknowledged the unknown.
"I think it is difficult to estimate what kind of numbers I might put up," Kuroda said through a translator. "It is obviously a longer season. If I go out and help the Dodgers win, the numbers will come with that." The Dodgers signed Kuroda to a three-year, $35.3 million contract in December and believe he can translate his career 103-89 record in Japan to success with the Dodgers. Armed with a sinkerball, above-average command of modest fastball velocity and four pitches, Kuroda will need to step into a Dodgers rotation with Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and himself as the four certainties and then assert himself immediately. To that extent, Kuroda said he is trying to get acclimated to life in the United States after 11 seasons pitching for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Kuroda has won in double figures in six of the past seven years, with a high of 15 victories in 2005. He has pitched over 200 innings twice in his career and has the makings of a dependable back-end starter if he can duplicate his success. He turned down overtures from the Mariners, Diamondbacks and Royals to sign in Los Angeles, where he is acquainted with Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, who pitched for Yokohama for 14 seasons. Kuroda also said the large Japanese community in Los Angeles helped lure him there. He has children, the oldest of which is 5 years old. "The Japanese community is one of the biggest reasons I chose Los Angeles," Kuroda said. "I think it will help my acclimation to the states." Kuroda said he is already familiar with or getting used to some American baseball nuances. He pointed out that a Major League baseball is much slicker than a Japanese baseball. Kuroda also worked on pitch counts in Japan under an American manager for the past two seasons, Marty Brown. "I had an American manager the past two seasons," he said. "I was used to [the pitch counts]. It depends on how the manager here wants to use me." Kuroda said he has yet to speak to new Dodgers manager Joe Torre, but it's no secret that Kuroda will walk into the rotation. Penny and Lowe are proven starters, Billingsley needs to repeat his success, Jason Schmidt's shoulder is a question mark and Esteban Loiza could pitch his way into the mix. Kuroda has the Dodgers' track record of success with Japanese pitchers in his corner. Of the eight Japanese starting pitchers in the Majors since 1995, only three have had winning records, including former Dodgers Hideo Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii. Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka also has a winning record after one season. Previous Japanese Major League starting pitchers Hideki Irabu, Tomo Ohka, Mac Suzuki, Masato Yoshii and Kei Igawa haven't posted winning records. The Dodgers think Kuroda can win in the Majors in 2008. Director of Asian operations Acey Kohrogi, who believed strongly that Saito would have immediate success, also believes in Kuroda, as does assistant general manager Logan White, who cross-checked Kuroda in Japan and came away impressed. For his part, Kuroda said he is ready for the expectations, the challenge, the longer season and the pitfalls and success of those starters who have come before him. "Some of my concerns are how I have to take care of my body," Kuroda said. "I think it is all part of a new challenge I hope to overcome." Long toss is a long way from where he's come and where the Dodgers hope he is going, but his team thinks bringing him to a new land is worth the price.
John Klima is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.