This offseason, the Blue Jays added southpaw Yusei Kikuchi on a three-year deal worth $36 million, completing the club’s rotation with five solid arms alongside Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Hyun Jin Ryu.
While some thought the multi-year pact given his shaky couple of years in Seattle was a bit of an overpay, especially with top prospect Nate Pearson looking to crack the rotation, fans were also intrigued with the possibility of what Pete Walker and the Jays coaching staff could do with Kikuchi on the roster.
The Morioka, Japan product did earn the loss in his Jays debut against the New York Yankees, allowing two earned runs through 3.1 innings of work but followed that outing with two solid starts against Boston and Houston, allowing just three earned runs through 8.2 innings combined. His second go-round against Houston did not fair as well, as the left-hander was roughed up for four earned runs through just 2.2 innings and he ended the month of April with a 5.52 ERA along with 13 walks and 13 strikeouts through 14.2 innings.
After an up and down April, Blue Jays LHP Yusei Kikuchi is having an impressive month of May that is giving the club ample opportunities to win ball games.
While the walks may be a bit more elevated than one would like to see early in the year, Kikuchi has turned a corner through the month of May that is making Blue Jays fans a lot more confident in a potential win when he steps on the mound.
Through three games this month, Kikuchi has 17.1 innings under his belt and has limited opponents to just three earned runs with 20 strikeouts compared to seven walks, which is a step in the right direction when it comes to the free passes. More impressively is the fact that he limited the red-hot Yankees to just three runs in back-to-back starts earlier in the month, which is not an easy feat in the AL East. He also did not allow an earned run through six innings against his former team yesterday while surrendering only one hit, giving the Blue Jays a chance to win the ballgame even though they only put up three runs on the board before he was pulled prior to the seventh. The southpaw currently owns a 1.56 ERA through the month.
This season, Kikuchi is using his fastball at a higher rate than in previous seasons while also using his cutter a lot less, relying a tad more on his slider to keep hitters on their toes while also keeping them in check with his mid-90s fastball that can touch 97 MPH. Opposing batters can square up his pitches, evident by the 92.5 MPH opponent average exit velocity and 50% hard-hit percentage, but so far he has limited the damage and has not been tagged with too many earned runs even with the walks and tough situations.
So far, the early signs are pointing to a strong fifth option at the back end of the rotation who seems to be finding a groove as the club inches closer to the quarter mark of the season.