Blue Jays: Yusei Kikuchi tops the league in Spring Training ERA and strikeouts
By Henry Wright
2022 was a nightmare for Yusei Kikuchi in his first season with the Blue Jays. After leaving the Mariners in free agency and joining the Jays, he posted a 5.19 ERA in just over 100 innings while walking more than five batters per nine and was relegated to the bullpen by the end of the season. This has obviously motivated him to step his game up for 2023, as he came into Spring Training looking like a completely different pitcher.
A new bearded Kikuchi started the Jays' first game of Spring Training on February 25th against the Pirates, where he pitched two innings allowing only one hit, no walks, and striking out five. Since then, he's continued to impress and closed out his time in Florida on Tuesday against the Phillies, tossing 2.2 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. Over 20.2 innings pitched in Spring Training, he would put up a 0.87 ERA with 31 strikeouts, both of which led all of Major League Baseball (Kevin Gausman had a 0.00 ERA but he did not pitch enough innings to qualify).
Kikuchi's outstanding spring should help endear him more to Jays' fans, as he certainly didn't make the best first impression in 2022. What will really matter is how he performs in the regular season. The 31-year-old is entering the second year of his three-year contract with the Blue Jays, and showed flashes of potential last season, as he posted a 2.36 in his five starts in June, but struggled with control over the course of the year and ultimately couldn't get it together before being sent to the 'pen.
Kikuchi will open the season as the Blue Jays' fifth starter and is scheduled to make his 2023 debut in Kansas City on April 4th. With Mitch White set to open the season on the IL, Kikuchi should have plenty of time to get settled into that role, and should hopefully be the final piece to an already solid rotation.