Blue Jays: Yusei Kikuchi turning a corner after strong performance against the Rays

Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays strapped in for an afternoon showdown on Jackie Robinson Day at the Rogers Centre against the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays. The Blue Jays sent left handed-starter Yusei Kikuchi to the bump and he did not disappoint.

As per the numbers, Kikuchi came off of a rough outing in his last start against the Los Angeles Angels, with a 6.75 in 4.1 innings giving up six earned runs. Contrary to the average belief, there were observations made from this outing that were somewhat satisfying for projection purposes. Some of these observations spilled out into Saturday's game.

Yusei Kikuchi absolutely dialed in against the Tampa Bay Rays

Let’s start with his composure; Kikuchi was settled from the start of this game as he was on the same page as his catcher and he understood the hitters he faced. Stress did not affect him; even with runners on base, he was able to keep the running game stable. His delivery was repeated well, keeping his separation consistent with his weight on his back and hinged leading hips. His mechanics were on point, each delivery mirroring the other with a strong hip-torque finish without tipping any of his pitches.

His fastball was commanded very well, using the zone and working the upper and lower halves. Of 94 pitches, he worked in 33 fourseamers, averaging 95mph+, topping 96.5 mph with run. He showed ability to paint corners and use the borders of the zone. The effectiveness of his off-speed was displayed in better fashion, using 32 sliders and 27 changeups. The slider was sweeping and cuffing right-handed batters while the changeup worked low with the bottom falling off. The difference between the off speed usage this game compared to his previous start was location and count deployment. His selections were efficient and calculated.

Kikuchi had 13 first pitch strikes with 23 batters faced, 13 called strikes, 13 swinging strikes, 28 foul balls for strikes, and 13 in play strikes. His final line was six innings pitched, four hits, one earned run, and nine punch-outs with one walk. This was a completed turn around for him against a solid Tampa lineup and a signaled a possible light at the end of the tunnel for the Kikuchi and the Blue Jays.