Blue Jays: 3 biggest storylines through 3 weeks of Spring Training

Mar 2, 2023; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) runs
Mar 2, 2023; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) runs / Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
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No. 1: Yusei Kikuchi and the fifth rotation spot

Coming into the preseason, one of the biggest questions was who would rise to the occasion and grab the fifth rotation spot.

Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White were considered front-runners for the job, with Ricky Tiedemann a dark horse pick to claim the role. With early reports about White being behind in preparation after an offseason shoulder problem, Kikuchi looked to have the inside track for the job.

After a disastrous 2022 campaign in which he lost his starting role, there were doubts about whether Kikuchi was the right man for the rotation this year.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reported early on that Kikuchi has "a more aggressive approach and a new breaking ball" and that "he's looking like a different pitcher."

The newly bearded Kikuchi has looked good early in camp. Through his five Grapefruit League starts, he has posted 16 strikeouts, a 1.15 WHIP and a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings. Encouragingly, he has been finding the zone and, until his most recent outing, hadn't surrendered an earned run.

According to Sportsnet's David Singh, Kikuchi has gained "confidence from the reactions he's seeing from hitters so far this spring — different reactions than he was getting last season."

While John Schneider and pitching coach Pete Walker have yet to decide who will enter the season as the fifth starter, the odds are good that the 31-year-old Kikuchi will get the job.

Now that Tiedemann has been reassigned to minor league camp and White looks like he might begin the season on the IL, there isn't a clear challenger to Kikuchi. So far, he has done everything in his power to show that he deserves to be in the rotation on merit, even if he gets the job by default.

All Blue Jays fans can do is cross their fingers that Kikuchi's Spring Training success translates to the regular season.

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