He’s not just a fastball pitcher anymore. Yusei Kikuchi, 32, has been pitching with such consistency that he’s tied a record set by Hyun-jin Ryu, 36, at his peak.
Kikuchi started the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) regular-season home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, on Aug. 16 and pitched six innings of four-hit ball, striking out seven and walking one. Despite falling short of his 10th win of the season after adding a quality start (six or more innings and three or fewer earned runs), his performance helped Toronto to a 2-1 victory and keep the Jays on track for fall baseball.
It was a steady, uneventful outing. Kikuchi started the game by retiring seven straight batters in the first inning, then worked a scoreless fifth inning without much trouble. He gave up a run in the sixth on an Edmundo Sosa single and a Yohan Rojas RBI double, but was able to get out of the jam without allowing another run.
With his performance, Kikuchi, who has pitched in 24 games this year, is 9-4 with a 3.44 ERA. His command is still strong, as he has amassed 132 strikeouts in 128 and one-third innings pitched. He has yet to reach 10 wins since debuting with the Seattle Mariners in 2019, but this year could be the year.
Most notable is his changeup and ERA. Last year, he walked 5.2 batters per nine innings and had a career ERA of 5.02 over four seasons. But this year, as of mid-August, his ERA is in the triple digits and his walk rate is down to 2.5 per nine innings.
It hasn’t been easy for Kikuchi, who struggled every year in Seattle, to survive in Toronto’s starting rotation. Last year, Toronto had a solid one-two punch of Kevin Gausman and Alec Manoa, Jose Berrios, who had a down season but still had a great career, and free agent signing Chris Bassitt. Previously, Kikuchi would not have been confident of surviving in the starting rotation when Ryu returned, but Manoa struggled this season, and Kikuchi pitched well. Add to that the fact that Hyun-jin Ryu has also been playing well since his return, and Toronto decided to send Manoa to the minors to readjust.
It’s a survival of the fittest. Kikuchi has now allowed one earned run or less in six straight games, dating back to last month’s start against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 17. Only Dave Stiep in 1988-1989 and Hyun-jin Ryu in 2020 have ever held a Toronto starter to one earned run in six consecutive games.
Toronto’s bold move to acquire Kikuchi has paid off. After failing to produce in Seattle, the Jays signed him in free agency because they knew they could use his velocity to get him out of trouble. Toronto already has Robbie Ray as its American League Cy Young Award winner in 2021. Kikuchi would be worth a lot if he could capitalize on his fastball with aggressive pitches like Ray, and he did. 메이저놀이터
“Kikuchi is having the season and time of his life,” MLB.com, the official MLB website, noted. “He has 13 one-run or less outings this year, tying him with Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels), Blake Snell (San Diego), Kevin Gausman (Toronto), and Braxton Garrett (Miami).