Yusei Kikuchi (32, Toronto Blue Jays), a former ace representative of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), began to show activity that met expectations before his debut after 5 years of entering the Major League (ML).
The American media, The Athletic, said on the 17th (Korean time), “Kikuchi’s rebound was one of the best stories about the Toronto club this season. He recorded a 3.44 ERA, the lowest in Major League history this year. At the same time, his strikeout rate was close to 25%. While recording, he maintained a career-low walk rate of 6.6%.”
This year, Kikuchi is having his best season since entering the big leagues in January 2019 with an average ERA of 3.44, 9 wins, 4 losses in 24 games, 39 walks and 132 strikeouts in 128⅓ innings. In particular, his performance in the second half is outstanding, showing an ace-level performance in the league with an average ERA of 1.29 (2nd in ML) with 2 wins and 1 loss in 6 games.
If you think of Kikuchi until last year, it’s a big change. Kikuchi, a former Seibu Lions ace in Japan, entered the major leagues in 2019 by signing a large contract with the Seattle Mariners for 4 years, 56 million dollars (approximately 75 billion won) guaranteed, up to 7 years and 109 million dollars (approximately 146 billion won) did. However, he fell short of expectations with a 4.97 ERA in 70 games, 15 wins and 24 losses in three seasons in Seattle, and he was eventually released as a free agent without even completing the contract period.
Ahead of the 2022 season, he signed a three-year, $36 million (about 48.2 billion won) contract with Toronto, but the situation has not changed much. He struck out 11.09 per 9 innings with a fast ball that came out at a top speed of 156 km/h, but he still controlled the ball with 5.19 walks per 9 innings. After finishing his first season in Toronto with a record of 6-7 with a 5.19 ERA in 32 games (20 starts), he was on the verge of being stigmatized again after Seattle.안전놀이터
However, starting in June, Kikuchi began to change. According to The Athletic, Toronto coach John Schneider thought the game against the New York Mets on June 5 (5 innings, 2 runs, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts) was a turning point for Kikuchi. Until then, Kikuchi had difficulty with the speed and trajectory of his main weapon, the slider, but it changed dramatically after he started throwing curveballs against the Mets.
From the Chicago White Sox expedition on July 7, he did not even allow a home run and set a record of ‘less than 1 earned run in 6 consecutive games’. This is the longest tie record for the Toronto club, held by Dave Steve (1988-1989) and Ryu Hyun-jin (2020). Ryu Hyun-jin and Kikuchi only achieved this in a single season, and Ryu Hyun-jin started with 5 scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves on August 6, 2020, and scored 1 earned run or less in 6 games, starting with 6 innings and 1 run against the Miami Marlins on September 3.
Coach Schneider cited the correct placement of the curveball and slider as the key to suppressing home runs, saying, “Kikuchi has learned the joy of throwing. His confident pitching is really cool. If you think about where he was a year ago, now. You don’t know how happy I am when he goes into the game and produces results.”
Kikuchi was expected as much as Ryu Hyun-jin when he entered the major leagues. However, Ryu Hyun-jin was already a pitcher with 40 victories 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 got a clue to rebound this year and finally reached his toes while tying the record set by Ryu Hyun-jin.
“Kikuchi has had a successful career in Japan,” said fellow Toronto player Cavan Vizio.