Well, he always said he would probably go back. Most figured it wouldn’t be doing so at age 40, but then Hiroki Kuroda always did do things his own way.
But all reports now have Kuroda returning to Japan next season to finish his career where it started, with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
It began in the majors with the Dodgers in 2008 when he showed up as a 33-year-old right-hander who spoke no English and still managed to endear himself to the fans of Los Angeles.
You look at the numbers from his four-year career with the Dodgers (41-46, 3.45 ERA, 1.12 WHIP), maybe think “nice enough pitcher” and sort of dismiss him, but that would hardly be fair. A healthy Kuroda was always a threat to give you top-level game and usually did.
He never seemed to receive the best offensive support, so his record hardly was indicative of how well he pitched. Even in his final year with the Dodgers in 2011, in his last 21 starts he went 8-11 despite a 2.84 ERA.
Of course, that was the season the bankrupt Dodgers were spiraling, wanted to trade him for a prospect and he elected to evoke his no-trade clause out of something somehow described as loyalty. That off-season, he signed with the Yankees. The Dodgers signed Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano.
Despite pitching in his late 30s, he was the same pitcher in New York. He fashioned an almost indistinguishable 3.44 ERA in three seasons with the Yankees, going 38-33 with a 1.16 WHIP. He also had an identical 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s one consistent pitcher.
Despite his early injury problems, in his last five seasons he averaged 32 starts a year. He was pretty much a model of consistency, solid, reliable, never causing trouble. Teams could do a lot worse.
He pitched well for the Dodgers, survived the scary Rusty Ryal comebacker off the head and went on to make over $88 million in his seven years in the majors. I think that qualifies as a successful stopover.
Now he’s going home, back where it began, back where he was regarded as the Carp’s best player. And hopefully, remembered here as one very fine pitcher too.