Kuroda sparkles

The right-han­der gives up only one run and five hits in eight in­nings in what might have been his last start at Dodger Sta­dium.

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - DODGERS 3, SAN DIEGO 1 Dylan Her­nan­dez

Right-han­der gives up only one run and five hits in eight in­nings.

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, $35.3mil­lion 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 tworun cush­ion.

Short hops

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.

dylan.her­nan­dez@latimes.com

Jae C. Hong

FAREWELL AP­PEAR­ANCE? Hiroki Kuroda, who will turn 36 in Fe­bru­ary and is set to be­come a free agent at the end of the sea­son, might not be back with the Dodgers in 2011.

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