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Kikuchi pitches shutout in series win over Jays

This was the guy.

The Mariners signed Yusei Kikuchi out of Nippon Professional Baseball's Pacific League this past offseason, but up until the series finale in Toronto what they'd gotten was an imposter. The Kikuchi of NPB was a dominant lefty, one who could go long into games and rack up Ks and put up a lot of zeroes. The Kikuchi of the M's had been a struggling five-innings-or-so starter that occasionally had a decent game but just as often got hammered; that's not the guy who won a Sawamura Award with the Seibu Lions.

But this, on Sunday in Canada, this was the guy.

Kikuchi went the distance in game three versus the Blue Jays, facing just two batters over the minimum and striking out eight. And he never did hit that 100-pitch mark. Kikuchi allowed a single, a double, and a walk over the course of the afternoon, with the walk to DH Rowdy Tellez erased on a double-play. The walk, incidentally, was on four pitches that were all on the border of the strike zone. Throwing mainly fastballs and sliders, Kikuchi finished the Jays off on pitch number 96, a 94mph fastball to strike out rookie second baseman Cavan Biggio for his fourteenth consecutive retired batter.

Getting a game like this from Kikuchi was not only exciting and fun, it was a relief for M's fans everywhere. Some in Mariner Nation were starting to wonder—were the scouts really that wrong? Is the culture shift so unmanageable? Is Yusei just a bust? Well, now we know. This is what the guy can do. At least, it's what he can do outside the United States. Can he replicate this, more or less, his next time out back home in Seattle? He looked slightly different on the mound, having tweaked his mechanics somewhat to do away with the common-among-Japanese-pitchers hesitation in his windup; this may have contributed to his terrific game. The matter-of-fact Japanese lefty commented (through his interpreter), "I was good for the team today. I was proud of that."

Kikuchi was helped out by four home runs from his offense. Kyle Seager carried his hitting streak up to 12 games with his 16th bomb of the year to start the scoring; Austin Nola added a solo shot and then later Tom Murphy clubbed a two-run homer and Keon Broxton hit his first Mariner longball to make it 5-0 after seven frames. Seattle would plate two more runs in the ninth on a Broxton walk, a double by Dylan Moore, and a single by Tim Lopes, accounting for the final tally of 7-0.

The win gave the M's a two-games-to-one series victory after splitting the first two contests. Friday night saw Wade LeBlanc get hammered for seven runs in a game the M's were only in for two innings. By the end of the third it was 6-2 Toronto on the way to an eventual 7-3 defeat. There were bright spots—a triple from Dee Gordon, some decent at-bats from Lopes and J.P. Crawford—but more concerns as well, with Mallex Smith striking out three times and getting himself thrown out on the bases again, earning him a benching.

Saturday was an oddity in that it was a true bullpen game, something the Mariners hadn't yet done this season. Since the club has yet to replace the traded-away Mike Leake in the starting rotation, what would have been his turn this day went to seven relievers, starting with new arrival Reggie McClain, who went two frames. Among the six who followed was Taylor Guilbeau, making his Major League debut after coming to the M's in a trade with the Washington Nationals on July 31st. Just one of the seven pitchers used, righty Cory Gearrin, was on Seattle's opening day roster and just one other was with the team at all (Sam Tuivailala, who had been on the injured list for most of the year). McClain, Guilbeau, Zac Grotz, Anthony Bass, and Matt Magill (who earned his first big-league save) were all in the minors and/or with other organizations until recently. This game saw a marked improvement in one area the M's have been sorely needing help with: advancing runners with productive outs. The 4-3 victory depended on one such at-bat, a Dee Gordon grounder that moved Daniel Vogelbach to third base and set up a sacrifice fly from, of all people, Keon Broxton, he of the 45% strikeout rate. Seattle still got its homers, too; Seager and Nola both went deep.

Next up for the M's is a rematch with the Tampa Bay Rays, who swept the Mariners in their last homestand. They'll take the field in St. Petersburg at 4:10pm PDT with Marco Gonzales once again going for his 13th win of the year.

Mariners vs. Blue Jays, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 24 (SEA 14, TOR 10)
  • Home runs hit: 11 (SEA 5, TOR 6)
  • Bases stolen/attempts: 1/5 (SEA 1 - Murphy)
  • Errors committed: 2 (SEA 1 - McClain, TOR 1)
  • Quality starts: 2 (SEA 1 - Kikuchi, TOR 1 - Thornton)
  • Pitching changes: 18 (SEA 7, TOR 11)
  • Starters ERA (includes “openers”): 2.49 (SEA 0.75, TOR 4.05)
  • Bullpen ERA (includes “headliners”): 5.53 (SEA 5.79, TOR 5.27)
  • Runners left on base: 24 (SEA 12, TOR 12)

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