SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Observations: Yusei Kikuchi, bullpen keep strong pitching run going

Mar 14, 2021, 7:59 PM
Mariners Yusei Kikuchi...
Yusei Kikuchi struck out six in 3 1/3 innings pitched Sunday. (Getty)
(Getty)

Over the last two games, Mariners pitchers have struck out 24 batters and walked just three. Quite a turnaround from what was seen earlier in the spring, with the performance of the bullpen of particular concern.

Mariners Notebook: What’s missing this spring, plus injury updates

“We were disappointed five to six days ago where we were trending on the mound,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said following Seattle’s 5-4 win Sunday over the Brewers. “Guys understand what’s really important to us organizationally. The new guys who have come in realize it’s not just words, we mean it – dominate the zone, control the zone. Win those 0-0, 0-1 counts, put people away. We’ve got stuff but we still have to pitch ahead in the count no matter how hard you throw or how hard your breaking ball is.”

Winning those early counts was an issue for Yusei Kikuchi, who started the game and was responsible for six of the strikeouts. While his slider was electric and fastball played well in the third inning, too many hitters took Kikuchi to full counts, forcing him to throw 66 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings. Regardless, Kikuchi’s third start was a step in the right direction, according to Servais.

“I thought he competed really well,” he said, pointing to Kikuchi striking out the side after giving up back-to-back hits to start the second. “He had really good stuff, used his cutter a lot. Good signs from him today.”

As for those who followed, Rafael Montero threw well, using all of his pitches for a second straight appearance, and Servais liked what he saw from Kendall Graveman, who threw a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts.

“We talked to Gravy about being more open to throwing the slider and changeup, and he has,” said Servais. “It makes his fastball play up and he doesn’t have to be as perfect.”

Offensively, the bats were relatively quiet with the Mariners doing all of their damage in the fifth inning off veteran releiver Brad Boxberger. No. 9 hitter Jack Reinheimer got the inning going with a solo shot to left center, which was followed by hits from batters 1-4, the highlight being a Kyle Lewis two-run double.

Before and after that, not much with five of the Mariners’ seven hits coming in the fifth.

Mariners notes

• Look who was back out on the field Sunday.

Jarred Kelenic, who has been hitting in the cages the past few days, hit off a machine and Ichiro on the back fields before the Mariners’ game against the Brewers. The verdict? “I’m 100 percent,” he said mid-hitting session. “I’ve felt 100 percent for a few days now.”

No word yet when he will appear in a game.

• An odd sight in the stadium bullpen before the game.

We’ve seen towels “thrown” by pitchers in the past but this is definitely the first badminton racquet.

“It’s just something I used during this offseason to fine-tune my mechanics, armpath,” Kikuchi explained. “It’s something my trainer and I came up with together. You see guys use weighted balls to kind of work on their arm path, get their arm up in time, which I have used in the past, but this badminton racquet just was something that felt really good and I thought it really worked for me.”

So… does he have game?

“Not at all,” he said.

• James Paxton is set to make his 2021 Cactus League debut Monday when the Mariners host the Diamondbacks.

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

Dipoto Show: What Trammell’s hot start, Kelenic’s injury means for LF

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Mariners Observations: Yusei Kikuchi, bullpen keep strong pitching run going