Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi looks to silence Twins’ big bats

MLB Baseball

Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi looks to silence Twins’ big bats

Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi will try to build on an impressive first start Saturday afternoon when the Seattle Mariners face the AL Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.

The 29-year-old Kikuchi (0-0, 4.50 ERA), who is just 8-15 in three seasons with the Mariners, picked up a no-decision in a 6-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants last week, but drew raves from manager Scott Servais after matching his career-high with 10 strikeouts.

Kikuchi threw 18 first-pitch strikes to the 25 batters he faced and allowed three runs on six hits over six innings, walking just one. He threw 89 pitches, 67 for strikes (75.3 percent).

“Really, really excited about what Yusei Kikuchi fired out there,” Servais said. “That’s as dominant an outing as we’ve seen him have. … Really happy and looking forward to seeing more outings like that this year. Big confidence booster for him getting off to a good start.”

Kikuchi said through an interpreter that he was taking a more aggressive approach to the mound this season.

“I just have a lot more confidence in all my pitches, and just have that mentality of being aggressive,” Kikuchi said. “And I look to pitch with that aggression all year this year.”

The downside for Kikuchi was that he was tagged for a pair of home runs. Buster Posey hit a solo shot in the third and Evan Longoria belted a two-run homer in the sixth.

That could be a red flag going into Saturday’s game against a Minnesota team that earned the nicknamed “Bomba Squad” after hitting a setting a major-league season record 307 homers in 2019.

The Twins flexed their muscles in Thursday afternoon’s series opener with Mitch Garver, Byron Buxton and Luis Arraez all homering in a 10-2 victory. Minnesota’s 11 home runs matched Toronto for the most in the American League in the first week of games.

It was the fourth home run of the season for Buxton, who also has three doubles and was hearing chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” from the sellout crowd of 9,675 at Target Field.

Buxton also doubled and singled as the Twins racked up 16 hits, including nine and seven runs in 4 1/3 innings against Seattle ace lefty Marco Gonzales.

“I expect us to be able to put a group out consistently that makes life difficult for left-handers,” said Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli. “Forcing those left-handers to work to get through the lineup, I think, is important, and I don’t think we have any soft spots for them.”

That lineup figures to be even more dynamic when third baseman Josh Donaldson (hamstring) returns from the injured list.

In two career starts against the Twins, Kikuchi is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA, and will be making his second career start at Target Field. He picked up a no-decision in a June 13, 2019, contest when he pitched five innings and allowed six hits and one solo homer to Nelson Cruz.

Ironically, Kikuchi’s mound opponent in that eventual 10-5 Twins’ win was right-hander Michael Pineda, who also received a no-decision after allowing just two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings.

Pineda (1-0, 0.00 ERA) garnered a no-decision in his first start on Sunday, an 8-2 win at Milwaukee. He gave up four hits and an unearned run over five innings while walking two and striking out five.

The 6-foot-7 right-hander, who started his career in Seattle, is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in five career starts against the Mariners.

–Field Level Media

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