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Pitcher Yusie Kikuchi haunts old team to lead Blue Jays over Mariners 6-2

Ryan Divish, The Seattle Times on

Published in Baseball

TORONTO — “They always get better!”

The once common cry of outrage grew to a fan cliché and has now morphed into a bit of a sarcastic meme.

To be fair, empirical data shows that players don’t always get better when they leave the Mariners. Some players do get better (Chris Taylor), some get worse (Robinson Cano) and some remain basically the same player they were during the time in Seattle — terrific (Nelson Cruz), terrible (Chone Figgins) or tradable (too many to list).

That brings us to the curious case of Yusei Kikuchi. Is he better? Is he worse? Or is he the same talented, but frustratingly inconsistent pitcher that tantalized and tormented the Mariners and their fans for three seasons.

On Monday night, the “good” version of Kikuchi, which didn’t appear quite enough in his tenure the Mariners, showed up for his new team to torture his old team because, well, of course he did. In a performance similar to those early outings that helped earn a spot on the American League All-Star team in the 2021, Kikuchi delivered his best outing of the 2022 season, leading the Blue Jays to a relatively easy 6-2 win.

Kikuchi tossed six shutout innings, allowing just one hit — a double to Jesse Winker in the fifth inning — while walking three batters and striking out six.

 

His departure from the Mariners wasn’t met with much consternation. Signed to a four-year, $56 million contract before the 2019 season, Seattle declined a four-year club option, turning the fourth year into a $13 million player option. Searching for a new start, Kikuchi declined the player option and opted for free agency.

Pitching with rhythm and pace and utilizing a recently revamped slider/cutter that he debuted in his previous outing, Kikuchi didn’t allow a hit through the first four innings. The only batter to reach base over that span was a walk to Ty France in the second at-bat of the game.

Winker doubled to start the fifth inning but never moved from second base. Eugenio Suarez popped out in foul territory and Luis Torrens worked a walk, but Kikuchi came back to strike out Steven Souza Jr. and get Dylan Moore to line out to left to end the threat.

Kikuchi came back to work a scoreless sixth, issuing another walk to France, to end his outings with 90 pitches and 55 strikes. He wasn’t completely efficient with only nine first-pitch strikes to 22 batters. But on those 13 1-0 counts, he came back with a strike nine times. He got 11 swing-and-misses and 15 called strikes in the outing.

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