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Yusei Kikuchi Holds Mariners to One Hit in Six Innings

The veteran starter only allowed a leadoff double to Jesse Winker in the fifth.

Yusei Kikuchi had his best pitching performance of the season on Monday, May 16.

Making his seventh start of the season, the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander held the visiting Seattle Mariners to one hit over six scoreless innings at Rogers Centre. 

Toronto defeated Seattle 6-2, getting home runs from Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman in the first and second inning, respectively.

The Blue Jays improved to 19-17, including 11-6 at home. They’ve won three of their last 10 games.

The Mariners fell to 16-20 (7-13 in away games).

In the fifth inning, Jesse Winker delivered the Mariners’ only hit off Kikuchi, a leadoff double down the right-field line. The ball rolled beyond the reach of outstretched Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Kikuchi (2-1) left the game after tossing 90 pitches, 55 for strikes against his former team. He walked three batters and struck out six.

Five Blue Jays relievers saw action on the mound following Kikuchi’s departure from the game.

Kikuchi relied primarily on his fastball (64% of the time) and slider (28%) with an occasional change-up (8%) sprinkled in, according to Sports Illustrated.

"To see [Kikuchi] being aggressive, going after hitters, I think that's huge for him," Bichette said, according to The Canadian Press. "He's been getting better. Hopefully, he just continues to learn himself more and be aggressive and build off of this."

Kikuchi said advice from Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker has helped him in recent starts. For instance, he’s made some adjustments to the pitching mechanics of his cut fastball, also known as a cutter.

"Pete mentioned trying to throw a 'bitter' which was basically a bigger cutter," said Kikuchi through translator Kevin Ando, according to The Canadian Press. "Just throwing that with that intent. It felt great after like one or two throws and so I've just kind of stuck with that."

After witnessing Kikuchi’s latest outing, Seattle manager Scott Servais noted that the ex-Mariner is essentially utilizing a two-pitch repertoire nowadays.

“[Kikuchi’s] still got the really good fastball you see at 95 [mph], 96,” Servais was quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated. “And whatever you want to call it, a slider-cutter. Our guys call it a ‘slutter;’ It's a little bit in between.”

Staked to a 2-0 lead after two innings, Kikuchi pitched into the sixth inning for the third consecutive start. 

He worked 5⅓ innings in his last start on May 10 against the New York Yankees, allowing two hits and two runs with three walks and seven strikeouts while picking up his first loss of the season in a 6-5 defeat.

Kikuchi, who was born in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, won his first game of the 2022 regular season on May 4 against the Yankees, pitching six innings in the Blue Jays’ 2-1 triumph. He gave up three hits and a run, issuing one walk and fanning seven.

Strong Start to May

In three starts this month, Kikuchi’s ERA is 1.56, a stark contrast to his overall pitching performance in April (5.52 ERA).

The 30-year-old spent the past three seasons with the Mariners. He had a combined record of 15-24 in a Mariners uniform.

The temperature was 17.2 C at the start of the game, and the stadium’s retractable roof was opened for the first time this season. 

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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