Kikuchi, M's sink Rangers to 10 games under .500

After a few days of unscheduled respite, the Mariners took the field to host the Texas Rangers Friday night and made them look like, well, a really bad baseball team. Yusei Kikuchi had one of his better starts in this abbreviated season, holding the Rangers to just two hits over six innings to earn the win.

Some of my observations while watching the game included a recognition of Yusei's movements as being more like himself tonight. That is to say, he was throwing free and easy and looking more like the videos I've seen of him as a Saitama Seibu Lion than he's looked last year and this as a Seattle Mariner. Whether that was due to an aggressive approach against the miserable lineup Texas threw out there—one that relied almost entirely on fastballs, four-seam and cut variety, with only a few off-speed pitches thrown in—or better general health or comfort after having a full week between starts or just a random fluke, it was a welcome sight. Occasionally when he would really zip one in there he even did variants of his signature high-kick follow-throughs.

YK2
Left: Friday vs. Texas; right: 2018 vs. Fukuoka

He faced just one batter over the minimum for six frames thanks to a double-play turned behind him, walked none and struck out seven, and might have done even better if home-plate umpire John Libka had been using a regulation strike zone. To be fair to Libka, new catcher Luis Torréns probably moved his mitt a bit too much trying to frame some of these, but still.

YK
Ball one.

Great as it was to see Yusei deliver another gem, just as impressive to me were the continued acclimation of Evan White—the rookie first baseman singled, doubled, walked twice, and drove in two runs in four trips to the plate—and Kendall Graveman showing what he can do as a one-and-done reliever. I was in the minority in pooh-poohing GM Jerry Dipoto's signing of Graveman in the first place and expected him to flop. We'll never know thanks to COVID-19 and the wacky short season, not to mention Graveman's time on the injured list, but in his first relief outing in six years he impressed. Of course, he's pitching with a (benign) tumor in his neck, so whether it's smart for him to be back at all seems iffy, but I presume he has plenty of medical advice on that subject.

There were a couple of surprises in this one as well. One, Dylan Moore is back. That was fast. When you hear a guy hits the IL with a tendon problem, you figure he's going to be out for a while, but it was just two weeks and here he is again. He lined a solid double to the opposite field and had a cheapie infield single to continue his impressive hitting, but as I've said before, I remain suspicious. It's not based on anything more than intuition or cynicism or profiling or the like, but I just am not convinced Moore's sudden transformation from Stocky Mario Mendoza into White Mark McLemore with Power is on the up-and-up. I mean, baseball-performance-wise, he is the sort of guy, like Tim Beckham last year, who might turn to, let's say outside aid in order to keep from being cut from a roster. A guy on the bubble, pushing 30, on his fourth team affiliation, good enough to get a look but maybe not good enough to stick. He is putting up numbers comparable to his 97 games at Triple-A in 2018, though, so maybe I'm off base. Then again, that '18 season was with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, playing at altitude in a hitter-friendly league, so...

Another surprise was that the M's chose to option out Tim Lopes and not José Marmolejos to clear a spot for Moore. It's the right choice, I just didn't figure they'd make it. Marmo might well be gone in another couple of days anyway, though, as the club will have to put waiver claim Phil Ervin on the major-league roster or else put him back through waivers and likely lose him to another team.

Oh, and the belated realization that Shed Long might not be the guy to be the regular second-baseman—I didn't see that coming, either. These new Mariners, with their running game and their de-emphasis on hitting homers and their coming around to better decision-making, it's just really weird. Apparently Moore is the guy who'll get the most time at the position for now, but I still want to see Sam Haggerty get a shot at it.

Then there was Dee Gordon's new jersey. Dee is now opting to use his full, hyphenated last name professionally for the first time and his jersey now has an abundance of letters across his back. He's apparently been lobbying to do this for a couple of years, but I guess there was an issue with league or union rules or marketing issues or something? Anyway, he said tonight that he finally got approval for it and thus the new nameplate. When he began his career, PA announcers and others tripped over his first name and made a bit too much of a production out of the full monicker—Devaris Strange-Gordon—that he quickly chose to go simply by Dee Gordon for professional purposes (he has always used the full name in everyday usage and official capacities). Now, though, there are several hyphenated-named players in the bigs and it's less, well, strange, and he wants to include his late mom's name with his dad's on his back. Good for him. I dread seeing how the font on the navy jerseys will make it look with its terrible kerning, though.

Nice to get a first look at two of the new guys, too. Ty France looked good at bat, but Torréns I don't have a sense of yet. He might need to work on that framing problem mentioned earlier. I think he'll hit, though. Looking forward to seeing Ervin when he gets here, though I have no expectations there one way or another. Not really looking forward to seeing the new relievers, Seth Frankoff and Walker Lockett, except as a minor curiosity. If either of them pans out it will be a pleasant surprise.

Oh, J.P. Crawford hit an impressive homer, too. That was nice.

Back at it at 6:00 PDT this afternoon. Keep it up, guys—the Rangers are really, really bad, and why not make sure they leave town knowing that in their bones?

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