It was the type of outing that was all too familiar in his first two seasons with the Mariners — inefficient, pitch-filled, passive at times, erratic at others and seemingly impossible to overcome.
Given his recent run of success, which included allowing three earned runs or fewer in his last 11 starts for a 2.33 ERA, perhaps Yusei Kikuchi was due for a subpar clunker of an outing or even one where his command and stuff weren’t particularly sharp.
That it came in his first start after being named to the 2021 All-Star game and a night after his team had been trounced by the Yankees made Kikuchi’s performance feel unfortunate.
Kikuchi gave up five runs for only the third time this season, and the Mariners couldn’t overcome that early deficit in a 5-4 loss Wednesday night at T-Mobile Park.
“Yusei just did not have his ‘A’ stuff,” Servais said. “We saw the the velocity wasn’t quite there compared to what we’ve seen here in most of his outings,” Servais said. “I will give him a ton of credit. He did hang in there. And the ability to get through five innings was critical since we went short with our starter last night. He gave us a chance to come back in the game.”
The Mariners’ streak of series wins ends at three. The Mariners (45-42) will to turn to rookie right-hander Logan Gilbert to avoid being swept in the afternoon finale Thursday.
Kikuchi’s struggles started early. Facing the stretch of the Yankees lineup that featured hulking bashers, he issued a one-out walk to Aaron Judge on four pitches — two slider and two cutters — that weren’t close to strikes. Kikuchi made it back-to-back free passes when he walked Gary Sanchez, a hitter who prefers to swing at most pitches, on six pitches. After getting Giancarlo Stanton to pop out in foul territory for the second out, it seemed like Kikuchi might escape unscathed.
But Luke Voit jumped on a hanging first-pitch slider, lining an RBI single to left field. Sanchez and Voit moved up a base on Shed Long Jr.’s throw home. The extra 90 feet loomed large when Gleyber Torres also took advantage of an elevated cutter on the first pitch, sending a single to left that scored both runners.
“The main thing was my fastball velocity wasn’t there as well as my command of it,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “And my secondary pitches just weren’t as sharp as always.”
The Yankees would have added another run in the first inning if Gio Urshela’s line drive to the gap in left-center on an 0-1 cutter didn’t hop over the wall, forcing Torres to return to third base.
Kikuchi finally ended the 29-pitch first inning with a strikeout of Brett Gardner.
“I think anybody watching the game can kind of see that his fastball velocity wasn’t his usual velocity,” Mariners catcher Tom Murphy said. “He cutter velo was a little bit down. His slider wasn’t as sharp as what it has been in the past few months here.
“But I have full confidence that kid and he should do as well. He’s been an absolute workhorse for us. Games like this just happen, and I think we shouldn’t look too far into it. What he’s done here in the past few months, is much more indicative of what’s going to happen in the future.”
The Mariners answered with a run in the first inning against surprise starter Nate Nelson. Scheduled starter Domingo German underwent an emergency root canal earlier in the day and still wasn’t feeling right at game time. The Yankees decided to start their relievers with the hope of bringing in German later in the game if he felt better.
Nelson never got out of the inning, giving up a run despite not allowing a hit. He hit Mitch Haniger and uncorked a wild pitch that scored him from third while also walking three batters. With two outs and the bases loaded, Yankees manager Aaron Boone called on right-hander Luis Cessa, who got Long to ground out to end the inning.
The Yankees pushed the lead to 5-1 in the second inning. Tim Locastro, the No. 9 hitter, led off the with the first of two doubles off Kikuchi. Two batters later, Judge hammered a 2-1 slider that hung in the middle of the zone, sending his 20th homer of the season into the upper deck in left-center.
Kikuchi would allow two more singles in the inning but didn’t allow a run thanks to Taylor Trammell’s nice catch against the wall in center on a blast from Torres.
In past years, Kikuchi would’ve never recovered from such an abysmal start. But in a sign of maturity, he gave the Mariners five innings, working the last three innings scoreless and allowing just one hit in that span.
“That’s a huge development,” Murphy said. “I don’t think many people will probably realize that watching the game today. But those first few innings, they could have really turned into a disaster. He had to have close to 70 pitches there in two innings. And for him to come out and still give us three more innings, kind of help our bullpen and really keep us in the game, it was huge for us. A few years ago that might not have happened with him. That’s just a testament to his growth as a as a pitcher.”
His effort allowed the Mariners to stay in the game and make it interesting.
After Cessa gave the Yankees scoreless innings in the second, third and fourth innings, German was summoned from the bullpen. Seattle got to him in the sixth inning. Haniger reached on an error, and Ty France singled to left. With two outs, Tom Murphy turned on a 1-0 fastball, hitting a line-drive just over the wall in left field and into the Yankee bullpen for his seventh homer of the season.
“It was my son’s third birthday today, so I was excited,” Murphy said.
The three-run homer cut the lead to 5-4 and gave the Mariners fans in the crowd of 17,205 fans something to drown out the loud chants of “Let’s Go Yankees!”
“The homer by Murph and our bullpen guys tonight did an outstanding job to keep it right there. It had the feeling of one of those games where we were going to come all the way back in the game and get over the hump,” Servais said.
The dugout also felt it.
“We’re a confident team here coming into later innings,” Murphy said. “It never feels like we’re too far out of the game. That’s something that we’ve really learned to play with this year is tight ball games, and realizing that we can come back from deficits. As a young team to be able to do that, it’s really powerful going forward.”
But the Mariners couldn’t ultimately silence the large contingent of fans cheering for the opposing team.
The Mariners couldn’t scratch out the tying run over the final three innings as German bounced back for a scoreless seventh, Jonathan Loaisiga looked dominant in the eighth and Chad Green, assuming the temporary closing duties from the struggling Aroldis Chapman, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.