TAMPA, Fla. -- Hiroki Kuroda seriously considered retirement again this winter, and said that he gave it more thought than ever before. In a way, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera brought the right-hander back for another season.
"With Andy and Mariano gone, I'm still a year younger than Andy and a few years younger than Mariano," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "That sort of pushed me to probably go for one more year."
Kuroda turned 39 in February, and he said that the biggest thing on his mind was the age issue. He had been inspired in particular by Pettitte, who gave the Yankees 185 1/3 innings as a 41-year-old last season.
"It was encouraging for me to see a pitcher who's older than me to go out there and pitch in a rotation for a whole season," Kuroda said. "Now that he's gone, I'm really surprised. His presence was really big for me."
Stationed in neighboring lockers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Kuroda and Pettitte struck up a friendship that made it past any language barriers, as well as the fact that they threw with opposite arms.
They often discussed their various pitches and approaches against hitters, and Kuroda said that "to not have him around the clubhouse is something I'll miss."
Kuroda was the Yankees' best pitcher for most of last season. He was 11-7 with a 2.33 ERA through his first 24 starts, but he tailed off from Aug. 17 on, going 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA in his final eight starts.
"If I knew the answer to [why], it wouldn't last for six weeks," Kuroda said. "I would imagine it had something to do with the quality of my pitches. Each of my pitches, the quality declined a little bit."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has acknowledged that he may have pushed Kuroda too hard with the club fighting to stay in playoff contention. Kuroda said that he is proud to have exceeded 200 innings in each of the last three seasons, but understands that it may be more important to finish the season strong.
"The past three seasons, I've pitched 200 innings," he said. "It has been a big motivation for me personally. Obviously, I want to achieve that. But at the same time, it's a team sport, and whatever is good for the team is something I want to follow."