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Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi
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Mariners Notebook: Yusei Kikuchi puts his rave offseason reviews to the test

Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi will make his first appearance of 2021 on Tuesday. (Getty)

The sun is shining and there is baseball today in Peoria, Ariz., as the Mariners will host the Indians. What you won’t see is nine innings as Cleveland has requested the game be seven innings as it is short on pitching.

Rodríguez drives in Kelenic, lifting M’s to walkoff win in spring opener

The Mariners, who have found the need to schedule B games later this week to get their pitchers work, have accommodated Cleveland’s request.

Lineup!

Mariners

J.P. Crawford, SS
Mitch Haniger, RF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Tom Murphy, C
Evan White, 1B
Jarred Kelenic, LF
Sam Haggerty, 2B
Jake Fraley, DH
Braden Bishop, CF

Yusei Kikuchi, SP

Kikuchi makes his first start of 2021

Yusei Kikuchi is making his first start of the spring. He has drawn rave reviews for the work he put in over the offseason and how he has looked from day one in Peoria.

In his morning meeting with the media, Mariners manager Scott Servais shed a little light Tuesday on what I found to be a rather curious comment Kikuchi made at the end of last season. In his final interview, Kikuchi said that the main focus of his offseason would be to work on the mental side of his game. From what Servais said, it appears there was a breakthrough at the end of the season.

A refresher: The uptick in velocity we saw from Kikuchi in summer camp continued through the two-month 2020 season with Kikuchi finishing second in fastball velocity for all left-handed starters in baseball. His other pitches, particularly the slider, improved as well.

Then there were the results. He was plagued by the big inning, which was costly in terms of wins (2-4 record) and ERA (5.17). The metrics were good on him, but ultimately that needs to translate to results. There was nobody more frustrated that he didn’t get those results than Kikuchi.

“The frustration in performance, he’s a really talented guy who works extremely hard,” Servais said. “All of our starting pitchers have good starting routines. Then there is Yusei Kikuchi.”

Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth and the pitching group held meetings with Kikuchi where he eventually opened up and talked about these frustrations. Servais sees Kikuchi talking about the frustrations as a big step forward, and his final outing of the season where he threw six scoreless innings and allowed just four hits against Oakland reinforced the message of his pitching coaches.

“It was nice to see him just go out and compete, relax and just let his talent play,” Servais said. “We like his stuff. It is elite left-handed (pitching), we just have to be more consistent in locating it and getting in better counts.”

Mariners notes

• Upcoming probable starting pitchers:

Wednesday: James Paxton*
Thurdsay: Justus Sheffield
Friday: Chris Flexen
Saturday: Justin Dunn/Nick Margevicius

About that asterisk next to Paxton’s name? Apparently that could change, but Servais says not to read too much into it if it does.

“As we work through lining that up, there’s a chance Pax could be pushed back a day, but that’s all tied to Pete Woodworth and the schedule,” he said. “He’s scheduled to go tomorrow, but we will see as Woody works through that later today.”

• When will we see Logan Gilbert? Soon, according to Servais, most likely in a Cactus League game rather than one of the upcoming B games.

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

More from Shannon: Kelenic frustrated, but M’s say they’ve stuck to plan

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Starting Pitcher

Chris Flexen