Game 133, Yankees at Mariners – Kikuchi vs. Tanaka

marc w · August 27, 2019 at 6:26 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Yusei Kikuchi vs. Masahiro Tanaka, 7:10pm

After a fairly hard-fought loss last night, the M’s face off against the Yankees in a game pitting two of the bigger NPB stars against each other. Sure, sure: Shohei Ohtani’s the bigger name, but it at the time he was posted, Tanaka had Daisuke Matsuzaka-like hype. He’s settled in as an above-average #3, but he was pretty dominant in his first year, but just hasn’t been *quite* the same since an elbow injury scare in 2014. Part of that is velocity related, but not a ton: he was 93+, and now he’s more 91-92, but a larger part is his once super-human splitter becoming more and more mortal.

Batters didn’t hit above .200 on his splitter until *last year*. This year, they’re hitting .281 and have 8 HRs, that’s the second-most he’s given up on the pitch in his career, and given the new baseball, he’s probably going to break that record. The pitch is looking more like a regular change-up, with more horizontal movement and a bit less drop. As his four-seam fastball’s ride decreases, the gap between it and the splitter drops, and batters seem to like the resulting mishmash. Of course, the real problem in his arsenal is that fastball, which batters are really hitting hard now. He’s responded by throwing ever fewer of them, replacing the fastballs with sliders, which seems to be the general Yankee advice. That pitch has proven to be a life-saver for him, particularly against righties.

Yusei Kikuchi is making his first start since his remarkable complete game shutout of the Jays. It’s another line-up filled with tough hitters, but it’s what Kikuchi does that matters much more than who he’s facing. He’s been remarkably hittable, but he’s so much better than he’s shown. The M’s changed his delivery slightly, and that seems to have made a big impact. The team says his pitches have more life after the changes, but the velo’s down a tiny bit. His vertical movement has dropped in recent games, but it doesn’t quite coincide with the mechanical changes. That drop in vertical movement’s coincided with a tiny bit more horizontal movement, likely the result of a slight drop in arm slot. More noticeable, and something to watch tonight, is how he’s spotting his fastball and breaking balls. He seems to be using his fastball higher than he did much of the year, but it’s still a bit early and the changes a bit subtle to pinpoint it as a real driver of his improvement. He’s using a few more sliders now as well, but that can’t be the sole reason for his improvement, given his struggles with the pitch. It seems like the new delivery helps mask whatever pitch he throws, and I hope he gets more comfortable with it in September. That Jays game has to give him a much-needed confidence boost.

Whatever happens, it’s still been great to see his general improvement late in the year. The 2020 season may be fairly bleak as well, and we’re going to need something good to watch. JP Crawford could be one of those things, and I *hope* Justus Sheffield will be, but Yusei Kikuchi really should be. Jake Fraley, too. Anytime you’re ready to go on a hot streak, that’d be great (he’s got the night off tonight).

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Narvaez, DH
4: Seager, 3B
5: Murphy, C
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Lopes, LF
8: Gordon, 2B
9: Moore, RF
SP: Kikuchi

Justin Dunn overwhelmed Corpus Christi last night in 4 perfect IP (he struck out 8 Hooks), meaning he’s probably due up in Seattle on September 1st. Ian McKinney is trying to match him now, with 5 shutout innings against Corpus Christi with 10 Ks and no walks.
Visalia walked off Modesto in extras, and Fresno dominated Tacoma 9-3 as Dan Altavilla and Brian Ellington had bullpen outings to forget. Today, Sean Nolin starts for Tacoma tonight, and Modesto kicks off a series with Stockton. The Arizona League Mariners ended their season last night; they finished 22-34.


One Response to “Game 133, Yankees at Mariners – Kikuchi vs. Tanaka”

  1. mrakbaseball on August 27th, 2019 8:40 pm

    Maybe the Mariners don’t need to skip Kikuchi’s starts?

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