We recently wrote about Yusei Kikuchi, who has been almost infuriatingly inconsistent since arriving in the Majors for the 2019 season. He is equally capable of throwing like an All-Star or the worst pitcher in the league on any given day.
With this said (well ... written), Kikuchi has been more good than bad during his second season in Toronto. In fact he has almost become reliable, in stark contrast to his first year with the Blue Jays.
A jubilant June
Along these lines, June has been the best month yet this season for the mercurial talent. In five starts he has not given up more than two earned runs, resulting in an ERA of 2.28.
Further, June has also seen Kikuchi produce his best strikeout-to-walk rate yet, at 33-6. Throw in a 0.868 WHIP, and there is plenty to be impressed by.
As you'd expect there are still critics out there, pointing to aspects such as the 32-year-old's continued issues with the long ball. Or the fact that none of his first three starts this month lasted more than five innings.
In it for the long run
In respect of the second critique however, it should be noted Kikuchi's past two starts have seen an improvement in this area. His outing versus Miami saw him go six innings and give up a season-low two hits, while also allowing no runs for just the third time in 2023.
The 2021 All-Star then followed this up with his most enduring start yet for the Blue Jays, against Oakland. He went seven innings and threw 101 pitches, with both representing his most since arriving in Toronto.
Kikuchi was understandably happy with his effort on Sunday, which helped propel the team to a 12-1 win. As per Keegan Matheson of MLB.com, he said through an interpreter:
"I haven’t been able to pitch through the seventh inning ever since I joined the Blue Jays, so that was great. Also, I think I was able to save the bullpen. That was really good today."
A career year in the making
While there is still half a season to go, Kikuchi is on course for the best campaign yet of his five-year Major League career. Current projections will see him set single-season bests for ERA, WHIP and walks per nine innings.
Of course the most important statistic of all is winning. In this respect the southpaw has already equaled his career-high of seven wins, before even reaching July.
As noted by manager John Schneider, Kikuchi is now showing a more confident and fearless approach on the mound. As per Matheson, Schneider said on Sunday:
"When you look back to last year, 2-0 count, you could see him getting a little tense. It’s the exact opposite right now. You feel comfortable with him in any count. I think he dropped a 3-0 curveball in to (Brent) Rooker. He knows his stuff is good and he’s really convicted."
The Japan native has become an unexpected bonus this year in the Blue Jays rotation. He has also been a much-needed one, given what's transpired with Alek Manoah.
There will still be concerns about the consistency of Kikuchi which, fair or not, comes on the back of his track record in Major League baseball. With every passing start however, he is gradually eradicating these concerns.