SHANNON DRAYER

Notebook: Mariners’ Yusei Kikuchi still adjusting to MLB pre-game schedule

Mar 2, 2019, 11:07 AM

Yusei Kikuchi is set to make his second outing of Mariners spring training Saturday. (AP)...

Yusei Kikuchi is set to make his second outing of Mariners spring training Saturday. (AP)

(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – It seems that one of the bigger challenges Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi is facing in adapting to baseball in the US is not what happens on the mound, but getting to the mound. The routine is very different in Japan and Kikuchi, who starts for the M’s Saturday against the Royals in Surprise, is in the process of adapting to the pre-game schedule in MLB.

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In Kikuchi’s first outing, he surprised onlookers by arriving in the stadium to begin his warm-up routine almost an hour before first pitch.

“Most guys are probably 30 minutes before first pitch,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “They run, catch, long toss. About 15-20 minutes out they are on the on (bullpen) mound, some shut it down and come in and have a little bit of a break. Yusei likes to do that.”

Before his first outing of the spring, Kikuchi followed the break after his bullpen warm-up by playing catch in front of the dugout until the game began. This is where he will need to make an adjustment.

“It’s fine when you are the home team, but sometimes when you are the visitor and you put up a 5-spot in the first, now he has been sitting on the bench for 20-25 minutes. You can’t control that,” Servais pointed out.

In Japan starters keep their arms active throughout the game, often throwing in front of the dugout between innings or even in the bullpens, which are located behind the dugouts under the stands, if innings go long. Kikuchi will not be able to do that in the US, so the routines he is most familiar with will have to be altered.

“It’s going to take a little time for him to get comfortable and have a clear understanding of what works for him,” said Servais. “The biggest thing is the pre-game on game day to make sure that he comes up with a routine that he is comfortable that will actually work with how a Major League game gets going, gets started.”

The transition should not be problematic. We’ve seen other pitchers from Japan make the necessary adjustments, but it will be interesting to watch as we count down to the start of the season.

Lineup!

Shed Long, 2B
J.P. Crawford, SS
Domingo Santana, LF
Daniel Vogelbach, DH
Ryon Healy, 1B
Kyle Lewis, CF
Ichiro, RF
Dylan Moore, 3B
David Freitas, C

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP (scheduled for three innings on pitch count of 50-55)

Posted game pitchers: Erik Swanson, Zac Rosscup, Chasen Bradford, Brandon Brennan, Gerson Bautista.

Notes

• The Mariners are just 10 games into their Cactus League schedule, but with the Japan trip now just 12 days away, next week we will see what we typically see in the final 10 days of spring training. Coming out of an day off Monday, expect to see position player starters stay in games longer and some relievers to throw back-to-back outings.

• The Mariners plan to take 30 players to Japan, including all five starting pitchers. Final cuts will not be made until right before the Opening Day game against the A’s.

• Shed Long played shortstop Friday for a few innings in a B game and fumbled a double play ball when he rushed to make the play. Long has not played shortstop professionally but the Mariners would love to get his bat into the lineup sooner rather than later, and positional flexibility could help him get that call should a need arise. Having not played above Double-A, it is highly likely he will start in the minors, where he can better learn the position. That will not be the main focus there, however, as the plan would be to move him around the diamond and get him comfortable in a super utility role.

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Notebook: Mariners’ Yusei Kikuchi still adjusting to MLB pre-game schedule