SHANNON DRAYER

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)
(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

Cal Raleigh has been on the baseball path since Day 1
OF Jake Fraley could be the gem of Zunino trade
If anyone can relate to top Mariners prospects, it’s Taijuan Walker
Julio Rodriguez looks the part of future superstar on and off the field

Shannon Drayer

Mariners Cal Raleigh Julio Rodríguez...
SeattleSports.com Staff

Drayer: The Mariners Week That Was on Seattle Sports 710 AM

Mariners insider Shannon Drayer has collected the best M's interviews and analysis from this week on Seattle Sports 710 AM for a podcast.
22 hours ago
Mariners Kolten Wong...
Shannon Drayer

Kolten Wong on joining exciting Mariners: ‘I just wanted to be a part of it’

"I just want to come to this team and do my part," new Mariners second baseman Kolten Wong told Seattle Sports' Bump and Stacy.
5 days ago
Mariners Kolten Wong...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: What Mariners are getting in Kolten Wong, what’s next in offseason

Just what are the Mariners getting in new 2B Kolten Wong? Shannon Drayer has the details with quotes from GM Justin Hollander.
8 days ago
Mariners Cal Raleigh George Kirby...
Shannon Drayer

Talking Mariners Podcast: Breaking down Dipoto’s comments on payroll

M's pregame/postgame hosts Shannon Drayer and Curtis Rogers are back for a new Talking Mariners, with the latest Jerry Dipoto Show taking focus.
9 days ago
Mariners general hat glove...
Shannon Drayer

Mariners Notebook: Andy McKay named assistant GM; dates to watch

Mariners insider Shannon Drayer goes through what Andy McKay's promotion to assistant GM means and sets the stage for next week's winter meetings.
10 days ago
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Brent Stecker

Big question Mariners have to answer: Where does Julio Rodríguez hit?

Julio Rodríguez eventually settled in as leadoff hitter for the Mariners in 2022, but will that change in 2023 -- and should it? Shannon Drayer and Ryan Rowland-Smith discuss.
20 days ago
Drayer: Kikuchi and his slider impress in Mariners’ 6-2 win