Yusei Kikuchi never had more than 26 starts in a year in Japan. His innings numbers were comparable — even higher — than they have been this season, but he had never taken the mound as often as he has this year with the Mariners.
Friday night, he looked a bit like it. Kikuchi’s 30th start of the season was one to forget. The left-hander got just one out in the third inning, allowing 10 hits and five earned runs on 60 pitches in a 9-7 Mariners defeat against the White Sox.
“Yusei’s had one of those years,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said after the game. “There’s been some really good outings, there’s been some struggles.”
Disregarding the one start April 26 that the Mariners scheduled ahead of time to last just one inning, it was the shortest outing of Kikuchi’s season. The fact that he was making the 30th start of his rookie season could have been part of the reason for the early hook, but those 10 hits allowed still tied a season-worst for him.
“I felt really good tonight, my stuff was really good,” Kikuchi said through translator Justin Novak. “It’s just that after I got to two strikes, the pitches were too much in the zone. Have to make little adjustments. It’s not a big thing that I need to change, just the little, small details.”
That was the case when Jose Abreu stepped to the plate for his first at-bat of the day with two outs in the top of the first. Kikuchi got to a 2-2 count — with both strikes coming on sliders — before leaving a fastball over the middle of the plate. Abreu didn’t miss it, launching a solo home run to left field that came off the bat at 111.3 mph.
That ended up being the first of 10 hard-hit balls — measured at or above 95 mph — that Kikuchi would allow on the night. Thirteen batters and three runs later, Adam Engel ended Kikuchi’s night with another solo shot that made it 5-3.
“He made the mistake to Abreu for the long home run, and then after that there were a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate today,” Servais said. “The command was off, certainly on his breaking ball. The slider wasn’t as crisp as we usually see, and a couple curveballs he threw were in the middle of the plate.”
The defeat drops Kikuchi to 6-10 on the season. It’s the third time in his career — including his years in Japan — that he’s hit double-digit in defeats, and the first since 2015.
“He’ll come back,” Servais said. “The thing is to finish the year off as strong as he can and continue to learn from it. It’s frustrating for him. Right when he thinks he’s got some momentum going, the brakes jump on it and he has a rough outing like he did tonight. But he’ll get through it and bounce back next time out.”
The White Sox stretched their lead to 8-3 in the top of the fifth on a bases-loaded double by Yoan Moncada off Wade LeBlanc. Moncada finished a home run short of the cycle, going 3 for 5 with four RBI on the day.
Brandon Brennan kept the Mariners in it, taking over for LeBlanc with one out in the fifth and retiring all five batters he faced. Since coming back from the IL, he’s thrown 6.2 scoreless innings across five outings, and has struck out seven. Matt Magill and Erik Swanson added scoreless appearances behind him.
Kyle Lewis was kept in the ballpark for a whole game for the first time in his young MLB career, though he did have a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first and a single in the bottom of the fifth to make it four consecutive games with a base hit.
“I’ve been really impressed by the quality of his at-bats,” Servais said. “The ball sounds a little different off his bat, which is a good thing.”
Seattle made it interesting in the bottom of the eighth, scoring twice on a Daniel Vogelbach pinch-hit double into the corner in left field to make it 8-7. J.P. Crawford walked to put the go-ahead run on base, but Austin Nola flew out to center field to end the threat. Chicago added an insurance run in the top of the ninth on an Eloy Jimenez solo homer off of Austin Adams.