What’s going on with Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi?
At times, left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi has looked every bit the star the Mariners undoubtedly hoped he would be when they signed him from Nippon Professional Baseball in December.
There was his promising spring training, a start against the Cleveland Indians that saw him strike out 10 over seven innings of one-run ball, and another stellar performance against the New York Yankees in which he allowed just three hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings.
Kikuchi has seen a dip in production since late May, however. The Angels jumped all over him for nine hits and six earned runs through 3 1/3 innings on June 8, and in a Tuesday outing against the Royals he gave up another six runs and nine hits over five innings.
To Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, Kikuchi’s recent struggles have nothing to do with his talent. Rather, Dipoto told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore that the lefty has a tendency to “tinker” with his approach, even when things are going fine.
“Yusei’s a tinkerer,” he said during the weekly Jerry Dipoto Show. “And we’re getting to know him as a player. His stuff is very good. We’ve seen the fastball up to 97, we’ve seen two above average breaking balls… we’ve seen flashes with his change-up that is primarily still a developmental pitch. We’ve seen him go through a month-long stretch where he’s an elite strike-thrower who works ahead in counts. And we’re now seeing what I think is the first slump of his major league career.
“… Yusei tends to tinker and try something new to fix things that might not be broken. And in the effort to make something better, he winds up taking a step in the wrong direction. And I love his mentality. I love how hard he works at it and how much he cares. But right now, more than anything else, we’ve got to get his command back online.”
Dipoto said it shouldn’t take long for things to click again for Kikuchi.
“He has a delivery with a hesitation when he comes to a set point,” Dipoto said. “That makes it a little tougher to create rhythm and flow as our pitching coaches work with him. But we’re learning him, we’re learning his delivery. I think it’s nothing more than slowing his body down and improving the consistency of his release slot. And my guess is it’s going to take one inning for it to click and for him to get back to the things he was doing in May, because obviously he’s had a really rough go of it in June. I don’t think it’s reflective of his talent, I think it’s reflective of that fact that he’s working too hard to change things that didn’t need to be changed.”
Dipoto also talked about the club’s recent trade of slugger Edwin Encarnación and why the Mariners view J.P. Crawford as their long-term answer at shortstop during the segment. Listen to the full interview below: