Yusei Kikuchi treated the Monday afternoon pregame workout like any other one during the season. He played catch early and then hung out in the outfield with his fellow starting pitchers, shagging balls from batting practice and having casual conversations.
There was no reason to break from his daily routine despite not knowing if he will make his next scheduled start Tuesday or when he might pitch again for the Mariners.
After the initial probable starting pitching matchups for the three-game series against the A’s were released Monday morning, listing Kikuchi as the starter for Game 2 of the series, manager Scott Servais said in his pregame media session that Tuesday’s starter has yet to be finalized.
“We have not determined the starter for tomorrow yet,” Servais said. “We’ll have a clearer picture of it when we get through the game tonight and see where we’re at.”
The picture seemed to come into focus just a little more with touted pitching prospect Matt Brash appearing on the field at T-Mobile Park on Monday afternoon in uniform and taking part in pregame throwing and on-field stretching.
With Kikuchi’s second-half struggles showing no signs of being remedied, including an ineffective three-inning outing against the A’s on Thursday in Oakland, the Mariners have been evaluating alternative plans for Tuesday’s start.
It looks like they may turn to Brash to make that start instead.
The 23-year-old right-hander had been at home in Canada since the Class AA season ended Sept. 19. The Mariners chose not to promote him or lefty Brandon Williamson to Class AAA Tacoma to keep their season going as possible emergency starters. But the organization did tell Brash to remain active and continue throwing when he went home to Canada.
On Friday, he was promoted to Class AAA Tacoma’s roster, though he never joined the Rainiers on the road. Instead, he flew to Seattle where he’s been working out at T-Mobile Park in anticipation of making that start.
“With where we’re at in the season, we are trying to do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance to get off to a good start in these games,” Servais said. “And we’ll just have to wait and see how tonight’s game plays out. We’ll determine that starting pitcher probably postgame tonight.”
At this point, having Brash, who hasn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 16, make his MLB debut in the pressure of the wild-card race against a veteran A’s team might still be better than what has been provided by Kikuchi.
Acquired from the Padres last season in a trade that sent right-handed reliever Taylor Williams to San Diego, Brash has had a breakout season in the Mariners’ farm system.
Using a fastball that can touch 100 mph and a nasty slider, Brash has dominated opposing hitters at the High-A and Double-A level.
He was recently put in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects at No. 99. He appeared in 10 games for High-A Everett, posting a 3-2 record with a save and a 2.55 earned-run average.
He was promoted to Arkansas in mid-July. In 10 starts with the Travelers, he had a 3-2 record with a 2.13 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 23 walks in 55 innings. Opponents had a .162/.249/.237 slash line against him.
Brash isn’t on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, so Seattle would have to add him. There is an open spot on the 40-man roster making the move relatively simple.
Kikuchi has been abysmal for the Mariners since being named the team’s only All-Star in early July. In his past 14 starts, he’s posted a 1-6 record with a 6.22 ERA. In 63 2/3 innings, he’s allowed a whopping 80 hits, including 12 homers with 70 strikeouts and 31 walks. Opponents had a .304/.385/.532 slash line against him over that time. Three of his past four outings have lasted three innings or fewer.
After his previous start, Kikuchi understood the Mariners might make a change based on his performance.
“I’m not going to be caught up worrying about that,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “I haven’t been told anything as of yet, but I would respect whatever decision they make because of the situation the team is in. I’m just going to focus on being ready for my next start.”
The Mariners made a roster move before Monday’s game, recalling right-hander Wyatt Mills from Tacoma and sending down left-hander Justus Sheffield, who has struggled in his past few relief outings, including five walks in one inning against the Angels in Saturday’s loss.
Since returning from the injured list and moving into the bullpen, Sheffield has a 15.12 ERA with 14 hits allowed and 11 walks issued in just 8 1/3 innings pitched.
“Sheff’s had a frustrating year, getting off to a rocky start and then the injury issue and trying to come back,” Servais said. “I commend him for trying to do everything he could to get back and help us out in the bullpen. I do think he is healthy. I don’t think there’s an issue there. It’s his lack of command. I know he’ll get back on track but with where we’re at in the season, we thought we need to make a change there.”