The Blue Jays needed a good start and Yusei Kikuchi delivered
Photo credit:© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
With the Blue Jays entering Tuesday’s contest with a 1-3 record, Toronto was not only in desperate need of a win but was also looking for a starter to step up to get the job done after a weekend that most would like to forget.
So far this season, only Kevin Gausman has pitched well from the rotation, going six innings against the St. Louis Cardinals and allowing just three runs, all of which came unearned after a Matt Chapman throwing error, with the bats struggling to capitalize on a wild outing by Jack Flaherty.
Alek Manoah struggled with his command during his Opening Day start against a strong Cardinals squad, allowing nine hits and five earned runs through 3 1/3 innings, while both Chris Bassitt and José Berríos faired even worse in their respective outings. The former Mets starter allowed ten hits including four home runs on his way to nine earned against the Cardinals while Berríos got hit around by the Kansas City Royals, giving up eight earned runs through six innings, making it three consecutive losses after their Opening Day win.
Blue Jays Yusei Kikuchi Takes the Mound
The Blue Jays were looking to right the ship and were turning to southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, who fashioned a strong spring training resume (0.87 ERA through seven outings with a league-high 31 strikeouts) which was a sigh of relief after the rough season he had last season.
Considering Kikuchi was not guaranteed a starting role after how last season unfolded, he rightfully earned the fifth-starter spot over Mitch White (currently on the IL) and Zach Thompson, which meant the former Mariner would begin the season facing Kansas City.
Through five innings of work on his first start of the year, the Japanese product had a very strong outing, allowing just three hits and one earned run compared to one walk and two strikeouts, giving the Blue Jays a fighting chance to win the game after his night was done. His only blemish on the evening was a hanging slider to Franmil Reyes, who crushed the offering to left centre field that travelled 455 feet and left the park at 110 MPH.
Kikuchi finished the evening at 69 pitches, throwing 47 strikes (68.1%) while utilizing his slider, four-seam fastball, changeup, and curveball in the outing. He generated nine whiffs on the evening, six of which came via his slider while hitting the 96-98 MPH range with his fastball. All three hits by the Royals came off of Kikuchi’s offspeed pitches (two off his slider and one off his changeup) and the southpaw generated an average exit velocity of 94.2 MPH, with lots of groundballs on the evening.
One of the bright sides of this outing for Kikuchi was his ability to pitch around the strike zone, as he struggled mightily last year with his command to the tune of a 5.2 BB/9. His only walk of the night came against outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., with Kikuchi throwing two borderline calls that did not go his way and eventually led to the free pass with the count loaded. Kikuchi had 39 pitches within the strike zone this evening compared to 30 outside the zone but was still able to generate swing and miss as well as foul balls on the borderline calls that helped with his strike count.
Considering how the past few days have turned out, having Kikuchi go out and pitch as he did was a huge breath of fresh air for a Jays squad that was needing a starter to step up and keep runs off the board. The left-hander did just that, and while he was taken out before the Royals’ third time in the order and replaced with Yimi García in the bottom of the sixth, he gave the Blue Jays a fighting chance to win the game and prove that his spring training success was not a fluke early in the campaign.
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