As they entered the finale of an eight-game homestand Wednesday afternoon, the Mariners needed Yusei Kikuchi to give them innings — regardless of the outcome — to save an overworked and beat-up bullpen.
Kikuchi did just that, pitching seven innings for the third time this season and allowing the bullpen’s best and most-used relievers — Kendall Graveman, Rafael Montero, Nick Margevicius and Will Vest — to get two days of rest with an off day on Thursday before opening a three-game series vs. Texas at Globe Life Field.
Of course, any real kudos for Kikuchi’s effort were overshadowed by his starting counterpart — Baltimore lefty John Means — tossing a no-hitter in Baltimore’s 6-0 win.
Still Kikuchi’s manager was just as complimentary to his starter as he was to Means following the game.
Kikuchi pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in falling to 1-2.
“He did exactly what we needed to do today, and we probably could have put him out there for the eighth inning,” manager Scott Servais said. “He still had pitches left, but I thought it was important that since we’ve got some new younger guys on the roster that haven’t pitched in a game at all recently, I thought it was important to get (Aaron) Fletcher an inning.”
Kikuchi was well aware of the bullpen’s situation.
“I knew that going in and my goal was to get deep into the ballgame,” he said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “I was able to get through seven. I was honestly looking to go into the eighth as well. I just really wanted to go as far as I could, an extra inning, an extra out.”
Fletcher was called up before Tuesday’s game at the alternate site to provide a fresh arm for the bullpen. Before Wednesday’s game, Wyatt Mills, who was sent down when Fletcher was recalled, was brought back with Keynan Middleton being placed on the 10-day injured list with a biceps strain. He is the fourth Mariners pitcher to go on the IL in the last few weeks, joining Margevicius, Marco Gonzales and Casey Sadler.
Middleton exited Tuesday night’s game after facing one batter in the ninth inning. He is expected to be back in 10 days.
“If we had a fully stacked, rested bullpen, he might not even go on the IL,” Servais said. “But that’s not the world we live in today. We needed some guys that we could run out there. That’s why Mills was recalled.”
The Mariners lost their first rubber game of a series this season.
Per the recent changes to outdoor professional sporting events, as announced by Gov. Jay Inslee, the Mariners are expected to announce on Thursday that they will increase capacity for the next homestand, with special sections for fully vaccinated fans.