By RICK FREEMAN
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Hiroki Kuroda gave the Yankees a start they could lean on right when they needed it.
Kuroda pitched a five-hitter for his fifth major league shutout and Brett Gardner hit his first home run off a left-handed pitcher since July 2010, leading the New York over the Baltimore Orioles 3-0 Sunday night.
“I thought his sinker was excellent,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Look at all the groundball outs he got.”
Kuroda (2-1) struck out four and walked none, lifting the Yankees back over .500 at 6-5. New York’s rotation was looking fraught coming in. Phil Hughes had been hit hard by the Orioles the previous day, and Andy Pettitte’s scheduled return from back spasms had been pushed back to next weekend’s series at Toronto.
The Japanese right-hander hadn’t had much to be confident about, either. He took a line drive off the middle finger on his pitching hand in his first start and had to come out, then was shaky against Clevelandm, when he allowed four walks and five hits.
On Sunday night, Kuroda was locked in. He got 18 groundball outs, and the Orioles didn’t get a runner past first base until Nick Markakis took second on Adam Jones’ bouncer to third in the ninth. That brought the Orioles down to their final out, and Kuroda struck out Chris Davis for the third time.
“I was able to throw my sinker with precision,” Kuroda said through an interpreter.
Kuroda’s eighth inning ended with a snappy double play started by shortstop Jayson Nix, who ranged far to his left to scoop up Nate McLouth’s grounder up the middle and flipped to Robinson Cano covering the bag for a 6-4-3 double play.
“He kept his pitch count down, that’s why I kept running him out there.” Girardi said. “I think he’s got outstanding command and he really knows how to pitch.”
Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen (0-2) matched him until the fifth. Brennan Boesch led off with a single and scored on Nix’s sacrifice fly, and Gardner hit a drive high off the right-field foul pole. Gardner had gone 178 at-bats without a home run off a lefty _ 198 including the postseason _ since connecting off Toronto’s Ricky Romero on July 3, 2010.
“On the mound, I was thinking too much and that cost the big inning for us,” Chen said through an interpreter.
A prototypical leadoff hitter with speed and a good on-base percentage, Gardner wasn’t always a fixture atop the Yankees’ lineup _ especially against left-handed starters. This season, he’s led off in all 11 games.
Chen allowed three runs and six hits in six innings. dropping to 0-6 with a 4.37 ERA in 10 starts since winning Aug. 19 at Detroit. He’s winless in three starts this season, though in his previous outing he held Boston to two runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 3-1 loss.
“He pitched real well, gave us a chance to win,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We just weren’t able to score any runs. With very few exceptions, he was just as good as Kuroda.”
NOTES: Chen was the only Orioles pitcher who made more than 20 starts last season, his first in the major leagues. … Pettitte is expected to make his next start Friday at Toronto after his turn in the rotation was pushed back. The Yankees had the 40-year-old in line to start Sunday but he experienced back spasms Thursday night, initially leading the team to push his outing back to Tuesday or Wednesday. Ivan Nova is set to start Tuesday, followed by CC Sabathia and Hughes. … Showalter said that OF-INF Conor Jackson has decided to retire. The 30-year-old Jackson had been the Orioles’ last player cut in spring training. … It was a breezy 51 degrees when the game started. … The Yankees have 18 homers in 11 games this season.