Yusei Kikuchi (32, Toronto Blue Jays), a former Japanese professional baseball (NPB) ace, began to show his performance that met expectations before his debut five years after entering the Major League (ML).
The U.S. media The Athletic said on the 17th, “Kikuchi’s rebound was one of the Toronto club’s best stories this season. He had a career-low ERA of 3.44. At the same time, he recorded a strikeout ratio of nearly 25%, maintaining the lowest walk rate in his career of 6.6%.
This year, Kikuchi is having his best season since entering the big leagues in January 2019 with a 9-4 ERA in 24 games, 3.44 and a 132-strikeout with 39 walks in 128⅓ innings. In particular, his performance in the second half was better, showing an ace-level performance in the league with two wins, one loss, and a 1.29 ERA (second in the ML) in six games.
If you think about Kikuchi until last year, it’s a completely new world. Kikuchi, a former Seibu Lions ace in Japan, entered the Major League in 2019 with a four-year, 56 million dollars (about 75 billion won) guarantee and a large-scale contract of up to seven years and 109 million dollars (about 146 billion won). However, he fell short of expectations with 15 wins, 24 losses, and a 4.97 ERA in 70 games in three seasons in Seattle, and eventually was released as an FA without completing the contract period.
He signed a three-year, $36 million contract with Toronto ahead of the 2022 season, but the situation has not changed much. He struck out 11.09 times per nine innings with a fast ball coming from a maximum speed of 156 kilometers per hour, but his control remained with 5.19 walks per nine innings. After finishing his first season in Toronto with 32 games (20 starts) with 6 wins, 7 losses and a 5.19 ERA, he was on the verge of being stigmatized again after Seattle.
But from June, Kikuchi began to change. According to The Athletic, Toronto coach John Schneider thought that the game against the New York Mets on June 5 (two runs, one walk, and eight strikeouts in five innings) was a turning point for Kikuchi. Until then, Kikuchi had difficulty with the ball speed and trajectory of his main weapon, the slider, but it has changed dramatically since he started mixing and throwing curves against the Mets.
Since the Chicago White Sox expedition on July 7, he has not even allowed a home run, setting a record of “less than one earned run in six consecutive games.” This was the Toronto club’s longest tie record, held by Dave Steve (1988-1989) and Ryu Hyun-jin (2020). Ryu Hyun-jin and Kikuchi were the only two to achieve in a single season, and Ryu Hyun-jin had less than one earned run in six games, starting with five scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves on August 6, 2020 and allowing one run in six innings against the Miami Marlins on September 3.
“Kikuchi learned the joy of throwing,” Schneider said, citing the correct location of curves and sliders as the key to controlling home runs. The confident pitch was really cool. Considering what position he was in a year ago, I don’t know how happy I am now when he is put into the game and produces results,” he said with a big smile.
Kikuchi was expected as much as Ryu Hyun-jin when he entered the Major League. However, Ryu Hyun-jin was already a pitcher with 40 wins in the big leagues, and in 2019, the gap widened further as he ranked second in the National League Cy Young Award. Kikuchi, who had been wandering for four years, finally found a clue to a rebound this year and is finally reaching his toes as he tied the record set by Ryu Hyun-jin.
“Kikuchi has had a successful career in Japan,” said fellow Toronto player Cavan Vizio. This year, he seems to be really showing what kind of player he was. He praised, “He is a player full of fighting spirit and it’s nice to see him.” 토토