Kuroda finds stress relief
Hiroki Kuroda returned on Monday to the same park where he made his spectacular major league debut a year ago.
Kuroda didn’t pitch as long as he did that day last April and he wasn’t as dominant. But he said the win he earned in the Dodgers’ 4-1 victory over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on this day was more satisfying. Or, at the very least, more stressful.
“I was very conscious of the fact that they made me the opening-day starter,” he said in Japanese.
Kuroda held the Padres to a run and four hits over 5 2/3 innings, but the self-described worrier said his first opening-day start in the majors was a nerve-racking experience.
Of how Jody Gerut belted his first pitch of the season into the right-field corner for a double, Kuroda said, “I felt a little panic.”
How about the ball by Adrian Gonzalez that barely sailed wide of the right-field foul pole in the sixth inning? “I felt a chill,” he said.
Asked to weigh the fun he felt and concerns that ran through his mind, Kuroda didn’t blink when answering.
“There was only concern,” said Kuroda, who limited the Padres to a run and three hits over seven innings here last April.
But after Gerut scored on a groundout by Brian Giles in the first inning, Kuroda had few reasons to worry. Up to the point that he gave up a two-out single to David Eckstein in the sixth inning, he had retired 17 of the last 18 batters he faced.
Kuroda (1-0) was taken out later that inning when he walked Gonzalez to load the bases, but Cory Wade forced Kevin Kouzmanoff to ground out to preserve a 3-1 lead.
The victory sealed, Kuroda was finally able to exhale and crack a joke.
“I still can’t speak any English,” he said. “I’m very grateful that they would use a pitcher who couldn’t speak English on opening day.”
Belisario’s big day
Ronald Belisario couldn’t stop smiling.
Only minutes earlier, Manny Ramirez had dropped by to congratulate him for making the club. Belisario’s eyes followed Ramirez as the All-Star outfielder walked back to his locker.
“I feel really proud,” said Belisario, who had never previously made a major league roster.
Belisario’s rise from obscurity had as much to do with the 0.00 earned-run average he posted in six innings this spring as the shortage of serviceable arms in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
The 26-year-old career minor leaguer didn’t even report to camp in time, as visa problems kept him in his native Venezuela. Almost as soon as he showed up, he was reassigned to minor league camp.
His mid-90s fastball and the inflated ERA of the Dodgers’ relievers earned him another chance.
As final roster decisions approached, Belisario said he knew he had a shot at making the team, something he was never able to do with Florida or Pittsburgh. Formerly a top prospect in the Marlins’ organization, he had his career derailed by reconstructive elbow surgery in 2005.
Sunday night, Manager Joe Torre spoke to him at the team hotel and told him he was on the team.
“I knew I had a chance and I was preparing myself for the news, but it still took me by surprise,” Belisario said.
The Dodgers finalized their opening-day roster in the hours leading up to the game, adding right-hander Belisario, left-hander Will Ohman and utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz.
To clear the necessary spots on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers put Claudio Vargas on the 60-day disabled list and released former top pitching prospect Greg Miller, who never regained the command that he lost when he underwent shoulder surgery in 2004.
A place on the 25-man roster was cleared by putting outfielder Delwyn Young on the 15-day disabled list, a move retroactive to March 27.