After an awful season in 2022, Yusei Kikuchi may have had the biggest bounce back of any Blue Jay in 2023. The 32-year-old former all-star has developed into one of the most important pieces of this Blue Jays pitching staff especially due to the early struggles that Alek Manoah was having.
When the Blue Jays signed Kikuchi for the 2022 season, they expected him to be a solid starter in the rotation, considering he was an all-star in 2021. As we all know the 2022 season was not so kind to him. Kikuchi ended the season with a 5.19 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP in 100 innings pitched. As the season went on, he ended up in the bullpen and there appeared to be a good chance he would not be a starter at the beginning of the 2023 season.
So far, he has proved all the doubters wrong. It all started in spring training where Kikuchi showed much better promise then he had the season before. His velocity was up and his command was better. There became less doubt and more hype about the season he could possibly have. Since spring training Kikuchi has done nothing to disappoint the organization. His current stats after his start last night are a 3.53 ERA and a 1.234 WHIP in 122 innings pitched. His earned run average of 3.53 now ranks him 14th in the American League, which is something the Blue Jays probably could have never imagined after the season he had last year.
Kikuchi has been at the forefront of a much-improved pitching staff this year as he has become an underrated weapon for this Blue Jays team. At this point in the season, every time he takes the mound the team and the fans expect good results. He has been consistent enough to deserve their confidence in him.
As great as he has been this season, what does the rest of the season look like for him? With 47 games left in the season and the Jays currently going with a six man rotation, Kikuchi does not have many starts left. As the season winds down all of his starts become more important for the Blue Jays. His most recent effort against the Cleveland Guardians proved that he is primed for this end of season run. His outing of seven innings pitched only allowing one run was one of his most impressive outings of the season.
Considering the Blue Jays are in contention for a playoff spot, Kikuchi is also looking to play his way onto a potential playoff roster as well as a potential playoff rotation spot. If the season ended today, he would most likely be on the roster, but in the bullpen. Because he is left-handed, he is perfectly built to come out of the bullpen for a few innings. If the Jays continue to progress in the playoffs the odds of him starting a playoff game will continue to increase, but when looking at a possible wild card series the starters seemed to have secured their spot already. No one would have thought at the end of last season that he could possibly have a chance at starting a playoff game, but all credit goes to Kikuchi and the Blue Jays pitching coaches for getting him back into a place to help the Jays make a run.