The Blue Jays have a problem in their rotation at the moment, and they may have no choice but to do something about Yusei Kikuchi’s roster spot.
The southpaw had another disastrous outing on Saturday when he was chased after just 2.0+ innings against the Brewers, already having allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk. While that looks pretty rough on its own, I would argue that the numbers don’t tell the full tale of just how much trouble the Blue Jays are in when it comes to Kikuchi’s spot in the rotation.
Plain and simple, the 31 year old can’t throw his fastball for strikes right now, and he looks to have completely lost confidence in a foundational pitch. It’s his best offering when he’s confident in his delivery, and it’s been a key part of the game plan to get the most out of their free agent signing from this past offseason. There have been times early in the year when it looked like that plan was working, but lately it’s a different story.
Instead of relying on what should be his best pitch, it’s clear that Kikuchi trusts his slider far more than the heater right now. Pat Tabler mentioned on the broadcast that Kikuchi threw his slider 45% of the time during his last start, and we saw much of the same on Saturday as he struggled to hit the plate with his fastball. As a result, the Brewers’ hitters were able to sit on his off-speed pitch, which is what we witnessed when Mike Brosseau teed off on the pitch in the third inning.
You could write it off as a rough day at the office for Kikuchi, but unfortunately it’s becoming much more than that. Saturday’s outing was flat out ugly, and I’d go as far as saying that he might even be experiencing a bout of the “yips” when thinking about throwing ol’ number one. That’s not a great place for any big league pitcher to start from.
It’s also the fact that Kikuchi has been a complete disaster in the month of June, and has failed to pitch longer than 4.2 innings in any start this month. Just have a look for yourself.
At this point, I’m not sure the Blue Jays will have any choice but to make a roster move of some kind. After signing a 3-year deal this past winter, I don’t think the Blue Jays will be cutting bait with the Japanese left-hander. Instead I’m guessing he’ll spend some time on the Injured List with some sort of “ailment”, which will hopefully give him the time he needs to work on his mechanics, and more importantly, his confidence.
In his place the Blue Jays could see what Max Castillo looks like in a starting role, or maybe we’ll see the return of a familiar name like Thomas Hatch. It’s not exactly an ideal scenario, especially after losing Hyun Jin Ryu for the season, and also seeing some recent struggles for Jose Berrios and even Kevin Gausman. It’s a far cry from what was projected to be one of the best rotations in baseball, and the Blue Jays are going to be looking for answers over the next five weeks or so, both within the organization and on the trade market.
In a best case scenario, a short stint on the sidelines will help cure what ails Kikuchi these days, and hopefully he can at least get back to being a viable option for the back of the rotation. At the moment, I’m not sure he should be given another start until he figures things out.