SAN DIEGO — After some speculation for the past few days and the obvious hint of Justus Sheffield’s most recent outing for Class AAA Tacoma, the Mariners announced that rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi will make an abbreviated start on Friday night vs. the Rangers at T-Mobile Park.
As part of their strategy to control Kikuchi’s usage and innings total this season while keeping him healthy, the Mariners have implemented a plan to where he will make an abbreviated start approximately once a month or once every five to six starts. It’s something they do with their young starters in the minor leagues.
“It will be shorter,” manager Scott Servais said. “He understands what we are shooting for. It’s about getting him through the whole season. You can almost cut the season up in thirds. That’s how I typically like to do it. There’s 50 games, and then there’s 100 and then you want to see where you at in the last part of the season. We want to keep him healthy and on top of his game for all of those periods.”
Kikuchi will likely throw one inning before being removed from the game.
“He’s still going to make the start, he’s still going to go through his routine and throw his bullpen in between starts like he’d normally do,” Servais said. “He’s just not going to go out and throw 95 pitches.”
Kikuchi made his sixth start of this season on Saturday, getting his first MLB win. He’s posted a 1-1 record with a 4.68 ERA, while throwing 32 2/3 innings, striking out 23 and walking eight. His past four starts have come on four days rest, which is a change from the five days of rest that he got in between starts while pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Servais confirmed the Mariners will make a roster move to bring up a stretched out starter from Class AAA Tacoma to piggyback off of Kikuchi’s start. That pitcher will be Sheffield, their top prospect. The Mariners tipped their hand to the decision by using a one-inning opener in Sheffield’s scheduled start on Monday afternoon in Albuquerque. Sheffield entered the game in the second inning and pitched a total of three innings. It was a way for him to prepare for the same scenario vs. the Rangers.
“You are very perceptive,” Servais said with a chuckle.
Sheffield will be making his Mariners debut on Friday. He was acquired in the offseason in the trade that sent James Paxton to Yankees. Sheffield made his MLB debut last September for the Yankees, starting one game and pitching in relief in another.
He’s posted a 0-1 record with a 3.93 ERA in three starts and the relief appearance with the Rainiers. In 18 1/3 innings, Sheffield has allowed eight earned runs on 13 hits, including four homers. He’s struggled with his fastball command and pitch efficiency, walking 14 batters with 11 strikeouts.
The Mariners will have to make a roster move to bring Sheffield up on Friday. It will be interesting to see how they make that happen. Right-hander Chasen Bradford is the only reliever in the bullpen with minor league options. He was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday afternoon with right-hander Ruben Alaniz being optioned back to Tacoma.
Optioning Bradford to Tacoma would be the most convenient move for the Mariners, but he’s also one of their more reliable relievers. Instead, the Mariners could also designate a pitcher without minor league options like Shawn Armstrong for assignment. There is a chance Armstrong could clear waivers and be outrighted to Tacoma. But with how beatup and underperforming bullpens are around baseball, Armstrong seems like a candidate to be claimed.
“With where we are at, we’ve brought some guys in that don’t have options left,” Servais said. “That plays into it. It’s a process. And you have to make tough decisions sometimes to get to where you want to go. I think we are willing to do that.”