Blue Jays: Kikuchi bounces back with five solid innings against the Tigers

TORONTO, ON - JULY 13: Yusei Kikuchi #16 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on from the dugout in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre on July 13, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 13: Yusei Kikuchi #16 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on from the dugout in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre on July 13, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /
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After missing the past few weeks on the IL with a neck strain, Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi made his first MLB start since July 5th, facing a struggling Detroit Tigers squad that features one of the lowest all-around batting lines in the league as a team.

Kikuchi has had a rollercoaster of a season with the Jays, signing a three-year $36 million contract with the club this past offseason after spending the last three seasons with the Seattle Mariners. Considered a pitcher that pitching coach Pete Walker could tinker with to hopefully produce a strong back-end rotation piece, Kikuchi has not been dependable this season, struggling with his fastball command and owning a 5.4 BB/9 on the year to go along with his -0.5 bWAR. Opponents have been seeing the ball well of the left-hander, as he currently sits at the first percentile mark in numerous categories such as Barrel %, Average Exit Velocity, xERA, xwOBA, and Hard Hit % and owns an 8.10 H/9 on the season.

While he was on the injured list this past month, the Iwate, Japan native was working on his pitching routine and played with the grip on his slider, hoping to yield better results with the pitch in his return yesterday evening. He made one rehab start in AAA before rejoining the Jays, pitching to a similar line by going five innings and allowing two hits with zero earned runs but allowing three walks compared to four strikeouts.

Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi made his first start since July 5th against a struggling Tigers squad, going five innings and allowing only one earned run.

Overall, last night’s start was a promising one for Kikuchi, as the 2021 All-Star was able to go five innings and allowed just two hits and one walk compared to five strikeouts. He allowed a home run to Willi Castro in the second inning, driving a hanging slider just over the right-center wall for what would be Kikuchi’s only earned run of the game. His fastball was sitting in the 93-95 MPH range and used both that and his slider to get Tigers batters to swing and miss throughout the five innings.

With the trade deadline coming up on Tuesday and the Jays looking to add some arms to at least the bullpen, getting Kikuchi to pitch like he did back in May (2.36 ERA through five starts) would be huge for this club, especially if they don’t acquire a starting pitcher before the deadline passes. In mid-August of last season, Kikuchi started to downward trend with the Mariners, failing to make it into the fifth inning in five of his eight starts to end the year while allowing 25 earned runs through 31.2 innings.

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If the Blue Jays only add to the bullpen and don’t find a starter, Kikuchi will have to finish the season strong in order to keep his spot in the rotation and will especially have to keep the fastball command in check down the stretch. Failure to pitch deep into games and struggling to keep the runs off the board might persuade manager John Schneider to give Max Castillo some increased looks in the rotation to go alongside Ross Stripling, Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, and Alek Manoah.