The Yankees look unrecognizable at times right now. Major stars Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson all are on the disabled list and some familiar-but-aging names have been brought in to help -- Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner. But as Hiroki Kuroda showed on Sunday night, the Bombers pitching staff may have what it takes to persevere and keep winning.
Kuroda fired a five-hit complete-game shutout against the Orioles -- a 3-0 win at the Stadium -- as the Yanks took the series, 2-1. The Yankees had only 13 runs in the three games, but Kuroda's performance and the eight stellar innings by CC Sabathia Friday carried them to wins.
The offense is very unpredictable right now. The pitching of Kuroda, Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, however, could put the Bombers in a position to win a lot.
"You have to be able to win all kind (of games)," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You can't expect your offense to give you seven- or eight-plus runs every night. We pitched pretty well in this series. Look what CC did. Look what Hiroki did. They threw extremely well. We have to win this type of game."
With an eye on avoiding the luxury tax in the 2014 season, the Yankees' front office wants to pare the payroll for that season. It meant that the offensive depth would not be what it has been and that it would have to come from position players with one-year contracts. Enter players like Kevin Youkilis, Hafner and Overbay.
More important was the responsibility of the pitching. Kuroda pitched 219 2/3 innings last season for the Yankees, won 16 games and had a 3.32 ERA. That -- and performances like Sunday's -- are why they spent $15 million this season to bring him back.
"We have amazing starting pitching right now and a good bullpen," catcher Francisco Cervelli said, referencing set-up man David Robertson and closer Mariano Rivera. "We score a few runs and we'll be in every game."
Girardi sees Kuroda now as an elite pitcher. Unlike many, he made the transition from the National League to the hitter-heavy AL East last season and now may be proving it was not a fluke.
"He's got outstanding command. He's able to read swings and change speeds," Girardi said. "He can freeze hitters on certain fastballs. He can get them to swing and miss. ... He's got outstanding command and really knows how to pitch."
Kuroda does a good job of compartmentalizing. Though his performance right now is more essential than ever, he doesn't assume he has more of the load to carry.
"Whether those good players are playing or not, it doesn't change my job description," he said.
Brett Gardner, whose two-run homer was the key blow in Sunday's win, used the term "professional" to describe Kuroda's approach and added "it's fun to watch him pitch."
Between his sinker, slider and split-finger fastball, Kuroda is much more unpleasant for hitters. He logged 18 outs via the groundball on Sunday and said, "I threw the sinker with precision."
He was asked whether this win, which makes him 2-1 with a 2.87 ERA, leaves him feeling that he is on course now for another season excelling on the mound. The consummate pro, he answered, "For today it went well, but it's just today."
Until those hitting stars get back, the Yankees are going to need more of those days.