Yusei Kikuchi performed exactly how the Blue Jays hoped he would in season debut
By Edward Eng
Yusei Kikuchi provides calming stability to the Blue Jays’ rotation in season debut.
During the 2022 offseason, one of the big question marks for the Toronto Blue Jays was surrounding starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi. Which version will they be getting this coming year? The All-Star that had shown flashes of ace-potential brilliance with the Seattle Mariners during the first half of the 2021 season, or the one that struggled mightily to get hitters out throughout the 2022 season?
Well, the season may just be a few days old, but the initial results seen in 2023 seems to be pointing towards the All-Star one back in 2021. Building off a strong spring (leading all qualifying starters with an 0.87 ERA and 31 strikeouts), Kikuchi delivered a calm, yet stellar performance in his season debut, leading the Jays to a comfortable 4-1 win against the Kansas City Royals.
The win was desperately needed by the Jays, after a weekend in which most of the starters (aside from Kevin Gausman) struggled with control and consistency. Kikuchi pitched efficiently to the tune of 69 pitches and was able to hold the Royals to three hits and just one earned run over five effective innings of work.
At first, things didn’t start off smoothly, as in the bottom of the second inning, Kikuchi was touched for a home run by Franmil Reyes, followed by a single from Matt Duffy, and a wild pitch. But the turning point of the game came from that of Daulton Varsho, cutting down Duffy at the plate while he was trying to score from a fly out by Jackie Bradley Jr.
From there on, Kikuchi was able to settle down to retire nine of the next 11 batters, including barreling down to get two key strikeouts in the fifth inning to leave two runners stranded before handing it over to the bullpen. One could really see that he was focused and really feeling it after the second strikeout of the inning.
This Kikuchi certainly feels different from the version the 2022 Blue Jays got. Maybe it’s his new looks and new pitching tempo. Whatever it is, he displayed great poise and confidence in attacking the Royals’ hitters and consistently kept the counts in his favor.