The matchup was going to make Thursday’s otherwise nondescript regular season baseball game between middling teams somewhat interesting if not special. Both the Mariners and Angels are going nowhere slowly this season. They’ll battle to see who won’t finish last in the American League West.
But the chance to see Yusei Kikuchi pitch to Shohei Ohtani multiple times at T-Mobile Park would’ve made it fun. Yes, you remember baseball is supposed to be fun. And with the Mariners at 24-34 and the Angels at 26-29 this season with an infinitesimal chance of making the postseason, some level of fun would be a nice change.
But when the Angels’ lineup was released Thursday afternoon, Jonathan Lucroy was at designated hitter and not Ohtani.
Angels manager Brad Ausmus decided to play the wet blanket and not play Ohtani in the series opener.
With the Mariners starting three left-handed pitchers — Kikuchi, Tommy Milone and Marco Gonzales — in the four-game series, Ausmus said on Wednesday that he would play Ohtani in two of those three games. He made the decision that Ohtani wouldn’t face the pitcher who he idolized as an early teenager in the Iwate Prefecture later that day. They both went to the same high school — Hanamaki Higashi High School. Ohtani asked to wear Kikuchi’s No. 17 in his first year and then the No. 1 that Kikuchi wore as an upperclassman.
Kikuchi and Ohtani faced each other five times in their days in Nippon Professional Baseball. Ohtani was 2 for 5 with a single, a double while striking out three times.
Since coming back from season-ending Tommy John surgery and being limited to designated hitter, Ohtani has a .237/.322/.316 slash line with two homers and 11 RBI in 19 games.
“Looking at some numbers and I thought it was a good day,” Ausmus said.
“Some of Kikuchi’s numbers and the other lefties Gonzales and Milone and some of their statistics,” Ausmus said.
So did he consider allowing the matchup of the two Japanese stars?
“There’s a very good chance that they’ll end up facing each other at some point so I wasn’t overly concerned about that,” Ausmus said. “I was aware of it, but it didn’t influence the decision, obviously.”
Yes, the Angels and Mariners will play again nine more times after this series and 19 times next season. And yet, the same impetus for the decision could be used again.
With some of the 70 Japanese media members that came to T-Mobile anxious to see the matchup in his pregame media session, Ausmus acknowledged their presence and disappointment.
“I’m sure I am letting them down, but that’s not my job,” Ausmus said.
He later told a few reporters: “Japanese baseball fans don’t like me now. Tell them I’m sorry.”
Manager Scott Servais wouldn’t take the bait on the debate. When asked quite specifically, “You know Brad Ausmus. What the hell is he doing? Why isn’t he playing Ohtani?” a somewhat surprised Servais regrouped to give a standard and expected answer.
“I worry about our 25-man roster and that keeps me up at night,” Servais said. “I don’t need to worry about Brad’s.”
And yet …
“Well, he left Trout in there,” Servais said.
Sam Tuivailala’s rehab stint with Class AAA Tacoma ended on Thursday, but he isn’t ready to return to the Mariners bullpen. The right-hander is still dealing with some “dead arm” brought by some shoulder fatigue.
Tuivailala is recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon that ended his 2018 season in August. He’s had no problems with the Achilles repair and the recovery. But the velocity and life on his pitches started to decline after a few strong relief appearances with High-A Modesto. Tuivailala has been working with the Mariners pitching and training staff over the past few days to try and improve the range of motion in the shoulder and get it feeling normal.
Another rehab stint is a possibility, but Tuivailala would have to agree to it based on stipulations in the collective bargaining between MLB and the players’ union.
- Dee Gordon (right wrist bone bruise) and Ryon Healy (lower back inflammation) took ground balls early Thursday afternoon. It was the first baseball activity that either player has done since being placed on the 10-day injured list. Neither swung a bat, but both players are expected to resume hitting in the next couple of days.
- Closer Hunter Strickland (Grade 2 lat strain) will throw off the mound soon. Strickland will throw the first of two bullpen sessions on Sunday. He’ll follow those up with a live batting practice session and then a rehab assignment with Class AAA Tacoma.
- Felix Hernandez (Grade 1 lat strain) will throw a bullpen session on Monday or Tuesday. He will follow a similar build up to Strickland. He’ll need at least two rehab starts before rejoining the rotation.