On a night when the Mariners’ offense looked more than competent, and certainly better than it has been the past two weeks, that needed accomplishment, minor as it might seem, was briefly dulled in its importance.

In a game in which Jarred Kelenic and Kyle Lewis re-found their power strokes with big home runs, helping the Mariners snap a six-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory over host Oakland, Seattle still somehow had to feel the sting of defeat, gnawing uncertainty and the possibility of somehow more difficulty than they have dealt with of late.

The moment came in the seventh inning with a 4-1 lead. After throwing a 92-mph cutter to Jed Lowrie that resulted in an infield single, Yusei Kikuchi made a modified timeout sign to home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. The Mariners’ left-hander signaled to the visiting dugout and started grabbing at his back as manager Scott Servais and head athletic trainer Kyle Torgerson headed to the mound.

There was no need for discussion or conversation. Kikuchi said a few words, handed the ball to Servais and left the mound with Torgerson. During the fourth inning, the ROOT Sports broadcast showed Kikuchi doing a variety of stretches and twisting his back, apparently trying to keep it from tightening up on him. He also wasn’t sitting in between innings.

The Mariners’ best starting pitcher over the past few weeks was headed to the training room with the looming fear of a stint on the 10-day injured list where he would join fellow pitchers Marco Gonzales, James Paxton, Nick Margevicius, Casey Sadler and Kendall Graveman, who were all on the opening-day roster.

But those fears were allayed, at least in the moments after the game, when Kikuchi and Servais confirmed he was dealing with cramping in his back.


“I was cramping in my hands mid-game from the fourth inning on and there at the very end in my last few pitches my back started cramping up pretty good,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando.

It’s something he dealt with once in Japan and tried to pitch through it. The unwise decision led to an injury.

Kikuchi left the game having thrown six complete innings, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts. It was his fifth consecutive quality start (minimum of six innings pitched, three runs or fewer allowed).

He plans to make his next start.

“Yeah, I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to make my next start as scheduled,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. That was part of the reason why I came out of game there. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I would have had to skip my next start.”

Servais seemed certain as well, but admitted they will monitor Kikuchi and his back the next few days to make certain he’s healthy.

It appears the Mariners got lucky with the situation. And how often has luck and this franchise worked in unison?


The Mariners have only five healthy starters in their six-man starting rotation. And after unsuccessfully trying to push forward with a six-man turn despite having only four starters and making bullpen starts on the other two days a few weeks ago, the Mariners can’t afford to have that happen again.

Only this time, one of those four starters is rookie Logan Gilbert, who has struggled in his first three starts at the MLB level and is operating on a very limited pitch count.

The next open spot in the Mariners’ rotation is Wednesday and the starter for that game is to be determined. Seattle doesn’t have an off day until June 7, which means they can’t skip Kikuchi’s next turn if he somehow couldn’t start.

“We’ll see how he feels in the next couple of days, but I would fully expect him to make his next start on time,” Servais said.

Seattle gave Kikuchi a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Kelenic worked a leadoff walk off A’s starter Frankie Montas. He moved up to second on a wild pitch and scored on double from Mitch Haniger.

Seattle pushed the lead to 3-0 in the third inning when Kyle Lewis smashed a two-run homer to deep left field. It was his first extra-base hit since May 7.


“I think just with the ability I have to hit the ball hard at some point those things will come in bunches,” Lewis said. “It’s good to get a little bit momentum in that way. But I’m just still trying to have good at-bats, see the ball well, swinging at the right pitches and I feel like I’ve been doing that and I’ll start connecting more often.”

The A’s got their only run off Kikuchi in the bottom of the third on Mark Canha’s line-drive homer to right field.

Kelenic got the run back in the top of the fifth. Montas tried to elevate a 94 mph fastball and Kelenic was ready for it, sending a towering blast into the right-field stands for his second homer of the season.

After finishing the seventh inning for Kikuchi with no drama, Rafael Montero, as he’s been known to do in a Mariners’ uniform, ran into trouble in the eighth. He walked the first batter of the inning and then gave up a run-scoring double to pinch-hitter Seth Brown. Servais brought in right-hander Erik Swanson, who promptly walked Canha to put the tying run on base. But after a mound visit from pitching coach Pete Woodworth, Swanson used his slider to slow himself down and find some command. He ended the inning with a fury, striking out Chad Pinder, Ramon Laureano and Matt Olson.

With Graveman on the IL, Keynan Middleton worked a clean ninth inning to get the save.