Drayer: Kikuchi and his slider impress in Mariners’ 6-2 win

Feb 28, 2020, 5:02 PM
Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi...
Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi has impressed in his first two spring training outings. (Getty)

Scott Servais saw a lot of good in the Mariners’ 6-2 win over the Diamondbacks in Scottsdale Friday afternoon. He liked what saw from the relievers, he liked what he saw with the running game, Dee Gordon swung the bat well and overall, the Mariners played a relatively clean ballgame. As for Yusei Kikuchi:

M’s notebook: Walker close to game action, Gordon gets 1st SS start

“It was really nice to see him go after guys the way he did,” said Servais of the lefty pitcher. “His stuff, getting down the mound, coming out of his hand you see the velocity, it makes the secondary stuff better. There are things to work on but he got through it. It was a good outing.”

Kikuchi threw 2 1/3 innings, giving up one run, one hit and two walks while striking out three. The velocity we saw in his first outing apparently was not a first outing adrenaline surge. The fastball regularly came in at 94-95 mph with a good number of 96’s as well. What stood out, however, was the pitch he struggled with in his first outing: the slider.

“My main focus was commanding the slider today. It was a great feeling,” he said.

After his first big league season, Kikuchi determined that that his slider, which averaged around 86 mph, was looking too much like a curveball to MLB hitters. Ideally, he would like that pitch to be more 90-91 mph, which is what we saw Friday.

At first, it was tough to tell if it was a cutter that he had added or the slider that he was throwing, but he confirmed it was indeed the latter and remarked that he actually threw one 93 mph, which was the strikeout pitch on Yasmany Tomas in the second inning.

The advanced billing on Kikuchi coming over from Japan was that he was a left-handed power pitcher. What we have seen in the first two spring outings better resembles that more so than what we saw last year. There were a lot of adjustments to be made in his first year in MLB and Kikuchi says that he is much more comfortable this spring.

“I’m able to throw a lot more this spring especially because Woody (Pete Woodworth), the new pitching coach, really does believe in me and trusts me with how I work,” he said. “I am able to throw a lot more than last year, but if someone doesn’t stop me, I will just keep on throwing. So someone needs to stop me.”

Kikuchi also noted that the spin rate on his fastball is up about 500 rpm. It wasn’t clear if that was up from last year or when he pitched in Japan. Kikuchi did struggle with the baseball more than he let on last year and the increase might be associated with the ball. Regardless, there was a lot of good from Kikuchi on Friday as he continues on an encouraging path.

Mariners notes

• This made my day.

Kyle Lewis home run No. 1  followed by a Jose Marmolejos triple, followed by a Tim Lopes double, followed by a Dee Gordon single. The rare reverse natural inning cycle, which I called for after the triple. It wasn’t too tough, however, as Tim Lopes was up and all he does is hit doubles – he leads all of spring training with 5 – and I was sitting next to Mike Blowers when I made the call.

• The Mariners entered the day with nine stolen bases, the most in either league, and tacked on three more Friday. They did add a caught stealing, however, as Shed Long was picked off first base.

• Servais on Taijuan Walker’s sim game earlier in the day:

“He was not quite as sharp,” he said noting that his final ten pitches were much better. “He needs to get in a real game. He’s ready to roll.”

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

Check out Shannon’s Get To Know Your Mariners series

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Drayer: Kikuchi and his slider impress in Mariners’ 6-2 win