Blue Jays: Yusei Kikuchi makes Opening Day starting rotation, continues to impress

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins
Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins / Brace Hemmelgarn/GettyImages

Coming into Spring Training one of the topics for discussion was going to be about who would be the Blue Jays fifth starter heading into Opening Day. The names considered at various points in the offseason were Yusei Kikuchi, Mitch White, Nate Pearson and even Ricky Tiedemann.

The youngest of the group, Tiedemann was more of a fantasy thought with no realistic expectation that the 20-year-old would be there to start the season. He had looked dominant climbing through the minor league system in 2022 and was impressive in a couple of his appearances this spring, but the California native needs more time developing.

White has been dealing with a right shoulder injury over the offseason and had just recently gotten back on the mound in a minor-league appearance on Wednesday. It was reported by Ben Nicholson-Smith that White threw about 40 pitches and had touched 94mph with his fastball. He may get in an appearance before the end of Spring Training, but will not be the club's fifth starter coming the start of the season.

That leaves us with Kikuchi, who will have his name penciled into the final rotation spot thanks in part to an impressive Spring Training. Through six starts during the Grapefruit League, Kikuchi has tossed 18 innings and surrendered just two runs while striking out 25. Those are all very good numbers and add in the fact that he has allowed just nine hits, the left-hander should be feeling confident. One cause for concern is the ten walks during spring that he has allowed, accompanied by his track record. Blue Jays management should be proceeding with caution, due to the lack of consistency that Kikuchi has shown over his career.

Being able to put a full season together has been the problem with Kikuchi's major league career and if you take away a ten week stretch in 2021 that led to an All-Star Game selection, he has posted a 15-29 record with a 5.47 ERA and 1.563 WHIP in over 400 innings. The former Seattle Mariner came into spring with several naysayers, but he has done everything possible to give him the best chance moving forward with the Blue Jays. In his most recent appearance Thursday afternoon, he tossed five scoreless innings, striking out nine and surrendering just three hits while walking one.

Going into the 2023 season, John Schneider will be penciling Kikuchi into the rotation as he has proven this spring, like he has in past stretches during his career, he is a capable MLB starter. The former Nippon All-Star needs to now prove he can put together a full season of at least average pitching.

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