Hiroki Kuroda was sitting in front of his locker drawing up his socks on Thursday when he was told his start that night could be his last ever at Dodger Stadium. He nodded.
The Dodgers were long out of contention. The ballpark appeared more than half empty.
But Kuroda pitched as if the game meant something, holding the San Diego Padres to a run and five hits over eight innings in a 3-1 victory.
He later said he didn’t think much about the possibility that he might never pitch at Dodger Stadium again.
“I’m not thinking about the future,” he said. “It might be more accurate for me to say that I don’t want to think about it.”
The guarded statement was similar to the answers Kuroda has offered in recent months whenever he has been asked about his future.
Kuroda is set to become a free agent when his three-year, $35.3-million contract expires at the end of the season.
He has offered no indication of what he will do, in part because he is unaware of what his options are. He is one of three Dodgers starting pitchers heading into free agency, the others being Ted Lilly and Vicente Padilla.
Kuroda could re-sign with the Dodgers, most likely at a reduced salary. He could test the free-agent market. Or he could return to Japan.
The Dodgers offered Kuroda a four-year contract when they signed him in December 2007, but Kuroda told club officials that he wanted the option to pitch again for the Hiroshima Carp.
Kuroda will turn 36 years old in February.
His return has been long-anticipated in Hiroshima, where he still owns a house and remains a beloved figure. His immense popularity in the region stems from a decision he made to re-sign with the Carp after the 2005 season and turn down opportunities to draw a larger paycheck with a big-market club or in the major leagues.
“When I was a free agent the first time, my main priority was to win a championship with the Carp,” he said. “The next year, I was a year older and figured that if I ever wanted to pitch in the majors, I had to make a move at that time. But as far as this off-season is concerned, I haven’t even thought about what I’m going to prioritize.”
Although acknowledging he isn’t completely used to life in the United States, he said his family has adjusted well.
“Better than me, for sure,” he said.
His daughters, ages 7 and 5, attend a regular English-language school during the week and a Japanese school on weekends.
Kuroda still speaks little English, but if he has become acclimated to anything, it’s pitching on four days’ rest. In Japan, he was used to pitching once a week.
For the first time since moving to the majors, Kuroda didn’t spend any time on the disabled list. He has set career highs in starts (30), innings pitched (190) and wins (11).
“From a conditioning standpoint, I’ve learned to make adjustments,” he said.
Big night for Ethier
Andre Ethier was two for three and drove in two runs, the first of which came in the first inning, when he doubled to right to drive in Rafael Furcal and tie the score, 1-1.
Ethier put the Dodgers ahead, 2-1, in the third inning when he knocked in Furcal again, this time with a single to left. Rod Barajas drew a bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning to give Kuroda a two-run cushion.
Jamey Carroll won the Dodgers’ annual Roy Campanella Award in what was described by a team spokesman as a landslide vote among players. The award is given to the “most inspirational Dodger.” “It means a lot when it comes from your teammates,” said the utility infielder, who had to start at shortstop when Furcal was injured. … Matt Kemp turned 26 years old.