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Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi
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Drayer: Mariners’ Marco Gonzales has stepped forward but Yusei Kikuchi remains a question mark

Yusei Kikuchi's first season with the Mariners has been a tale of inconsistency. (AP)

With the Mariners nearing the end of their first season since embarking on a “reimagination” of their roster, 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer has looked back at what she wrote in March as the team began the season and compares it to where the M’s sit now.

This is part two, focusing on the Mariners’ pitching staff. Part one, which was published Tuesday, looked at the hitters. You can read it at this link.

To read the original post from March, click here.

The Mariners’ pitchers

First, let’s just go back to the original post.

On the pitching side of things it would appear some nights they could be fun to watch, other nights not so much. What is Marco Gonzales’ ceiling? How does he react to being “the guy,” something that he says he wants to put on himself after being given the ball for not one but two Opening Days. What is Yusei Kikuchi on the hill and does he continue to develop? Has Wade LeBlanc truly figured things out and can he repeat his better than steady performance in 2018? Can Mike Leake flip the switch after a shaky spring and can Félix survive on the hill in 2019? And who do they hand the ball to?

Who indeed?

To recap, Leake flipped the switch and was traded, LeBlanc lost his cutter and was not able to repeat what he did in 2018, and Félix Hernández will be making his final start as a Mariner on Thursday. The team has a one-year, $5 million option on LeBlanc that they are not likely to pick up. Gonzales and Kikuchi? They couldn’t have had more different seasons with Gonzales showing growth and Kikuchi stuck on the launching pad of his Major League career.

Before the season, Gonzales was anointed as one of the new core players and the No. 1 of the rotation, a role he embraced. From start to finish he voiced that it was his desire to be someone his teammates could depend on every fifth day and he was exactly that. He started strong, had a rough month of May, then bounced back and put up solid numbers the rest of the way. He is on track to finish in the top 10 in the American League in WAR, wins, innings, HR/9 and FIP, and he’ll finish the season as the league leader in starts with 34.

For Kikuchi it has been a year of transition on and off the field. New country, new league, new surroundings, new pitching schedule, new competition on the other side. He lost his father and became a father in the same season. There is no telling what impact all of this had on Kikuchi’s performance but what is known are the results. Where Gonzales was near the top of the list in most pitching categories, Kikuchi is near the bottom. His 5.55 ERA is third-worst in the AL for pitchers with 150 innings or more, with just .02 separating him from the league’s worst. He has given up 36 home runs, second only to the 39 given up by Tigers’ Matthew Boyd.

Numbers aside, it is most concerning that Kikuchi never showed any kind of consistency from start to start. The Mariners were accommodating in spring training and in how he got into his season, giving him breathing room as a veteran when appropriate. That will continue. There were pushes here and there that I would expect that to continue as well. There has always been input as well as help available to Kikuchi. Sometimes it was taken, sometimes it was executed, sometimes it went out the window. As evidenced by the number of different deliveries we saw, Kikuchi appears to be a tinkerer, and perhaps in the new environment the tinkering was shot into overdrive. That will need to be curtailed.

Bottom line is despite the numbers and the lack of consistency, Kikuchi displayed enough at times to show that there is plenty to work with. He has voiced a desire to help the team and expressed frustration in not being able to do so following rougher outings. It will be important to get him on a good path after a year year of firsts and struggles, and the Mariners will have an offseason plan for him to get going in the right direction. For now he exits the season as he entered it – a big question mark.

The 2019 season was never about the wins and losses for the Mariners, yet it was important to learn more about those who could play a role in the future. While there are still some question marks, there have been some “finds” and some rediscoveries at the big league level. Enough to say that the team has taken a step forward at the top level? Before any offseason moves are made it would appear that the Mariners should start spring training with fewer questions to be answered and fewer placeholders than a year ago, and with more building blocks in place.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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