Blue Jays looking for an answer after another difficult outing for Kikuchi
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. — So where are they going from here?
That’s the question the Toronto Blue Jays have to answer after the latest self-burning, when Yusei Kikuchi lost to Milwaukee Brewers 5-4. Irregular, inefficient, slow and uncertain, Kikuchi went through more than one hard-to-see inning on Saturday, ending with as many hits as the recorded outs.
Kikuchi’s season collapsed in June when he pitched to 2.36 ERA with five starts after extending the star in May this year. His ERA more than 5 times this month is now 9.39. His speed, fastball commands, and length of appearance are all reduced. With the Blue Jays navigating 24 games in 24 days leading to an all-star break, he hasn’t completed five innings since his last outing in May, putting undue pressure on the already stressed bullpen. I’m calling.
Now we all know that Kikuchi has been working on a swarm of adjustments since the Spring training, believing that the Blue Jays can unleash his potential. Increase his fastball usage. Throw away his cutter. Throw his slider harder. Reduces the time between pitches. Eliminate the hesitation of his delivery. Use different sequences, lanes and catcher setups. There are many of them, and it is worth noting that only over three months have passed since Kikuchi became a blue jay. He deserves the runway to understand all of this.
But he may benefit from the opportunity to do so away from the competition. Trying to tweak all these for the best batters in the world every 5-6 days in a live game that counts won’t work. And it costs the Blue Jays game. The club lost 5 out of Kikuchi’s last 7 starts and 10 out of 14 outings this season. And one of those four victories was Toronto’s incredible comeback from a five-run deficit against the New York Yankees last weekend.
Of course, Milwaukee Brewers sent Corbin Burnes to the hills, which never made it easier on Saturday. As always, the National League’s Cy Young nominee is terrifying, moving high-spin cutters from the mid-’90s away from right-handed and scattered on the two left-handed in the Toronto lineup, whiffing on a strike-to-ball braking pitch. Was raised.
Burns pitched in the eighth inning, keeping the Blue Jays down to four hits and two steps. Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette led him to a solo shot, but otherwise the Blue Jays barely threatened. Burns was so nasty and efficient that he hit 9 in his 7.2 innings and made 18 swing strikes. He came as advertised.
So did Kikuchi. He threw 40 pitches in his first inning, 12 of which were on Willy Adames’ walk. Willy Adames patiently fouled four consecutive full-count sliders before seeing what missed the zone. When Trent Thornton began to warm up with the Blue Jays bullpen, Adams eventually won two singles. Kikuchi finally got out of the inning after hitting two batters after Mike Brosseau clocked with the wrong fastball.
Kikuchi’s second frame also had a lot of strikeouts — three of them. The question was what happened in the meantime. 2-based bichette throw error. When Gabriel Moreno, the catcher of Kikuchi, sailed toward the backstop and the runner advanced to 3rd place, a fastball that could not be distracted. Adams RBI singles off the fastball. Andrew McCutchen’s liner crossed the wall of the left wing away from another heater that shot a two-run shot.
The innings were only 27 pitches as Thornton was forced to warm up again. But after a short break for the Blue Jays to hit, Thornton slowed back when Kikuchi started the third frame. It’s a pretty clear sign about the rope centimeters that the Blue Jays were giving an unstable starter. I missed Kikuchi’s opening ceremony. His second was demolished by Brosseau at 392 feet over the left central wall. And the Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo came to pick him up.
This may have been the worst in the season when Kikuchi was hard to see and there wasn’t a shortage of outings. And that includes the afternoon of four walks in Kansas City earlier this month, where he recorded only two outs on the 45th pitch. Remember that Kikuchi could only run three times that day. On Saturday he allowed five. And while only two of them count as earned due to Bichette’s error, anyone who sees the start knows exactly why it went that way.
Kikuchi’s continued reluctance to trust fastballs in the mid-’90s is as confusing to the Blue Jays as anyone who saw him pitch this season. But a quick glance at his pitch chart will tell you exactly why he hesitated to throw it on Saturday.
As soon as it left his hand, it tended to go everywhere. Meanwhile, Kikuchi’s slider was consistently on top and on the plate. This was great news for the Brewers lineup, who made a clear decision to hunt them. Kikuchi threw 37 fastballs and 27 sliders on Saturday, but the Milwaukee batter shook only nine of those heaters and 18 of the breaking balls.
And Kikuchi continued to go missing on his fastball-only 15 of the 37 he threw caused strikes-it only made it easier for the Brewers to spin. Four of the six hits Kikuchi allowed were off the slider, and three of them came into play at over 99 mph.
To make matters worse, Kikuchi’s fastball recorded 95 at 93.7 mph, and the season average started only three times. Kikuchi’s breaking ball also slowed significantly to 83.5 mph. He pushed the slider out at an average speed of 87 mph and threw the pitch harder, which was the focus of a series of adjustments the Blue Jays sought to make earlier this season. And he threw only five change-ups that day, but they also softened, down 2.5 miles per hour from the season average.
But in the end, the root of many of Kikuchi’s worries is the fastball command. He is one of the few left-handed starters in the game of throwing heaters in the mid 90’s. I know the Blue Jays want him to throw more often. He knows the Blue Jays want him to throw it more often. The world knows. But if it’s not on the plate, throwing your fastball more often doesn’t help much.
To make matters worse, Kikuchi’s command on Saturday was worse than the last two starts, both featuring four walks. Combine it with his slowdown and dazzling warning flags.
Perhaps the best thing for him is a break. The Phantom Injured List will depressurize, work on adjustments away from the competition, and come back with a clean head within a few weeks. The problem is that the Blue Jays need someone to pitch. The club will have eight games next week. They are in 18 stretches in 17 days. They have a day off from now until the beginning of the All-Star Break on July 18th.
And what are their options? Thomas Hatch started on Saturday with the Triple A Buffalo Bisons and was replaced by Kikuchi. However, he will tentatively make the next start for the Blue Jays during the team’s doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend. Will the Blue Jays take him away from that mission and slot him into Kikuchi’s rotation spot?
That would probably mean asking Casey Lawrence to assign a doubleheader. The 34-year-old isn’t crammed with anyone, but he has a 1.85 ERA at the 11th start of the Bisons this season, and the Blue Jays appreciate his strike throws and credibility. Lawrence pitched to the Bisons last Wednesday, so the Blue Jays could certainly readjust his schedule to make it work.
Alternatively, the club may consider arranging Max Castillo on a doubleheader day. He was stretched to Buffalo earlier this month, but is touting a major bailout from the Blue Jays bullpen, including four innings of exceptional work on Saturday. Castillo used 69 pitches to do that, and if he stepped into rotation, the Blue Jays probably couldn’t stretch him far beyond that. However, it is possible to cover the entire inning of the starter in combination with either Thornton or Jeremy Beasley.
The options are not exactly exciting. However, there is no prospect that Kikuchi will roll the dice again in its current form. That’s the question the Blue Jays have to answer between now and Thursday’s next rotation turn in Kikuchi. Where are they going from here?
Blue Jays looking for an answer after another difficult outing for Kikuchi
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