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Mariners could skip Kikuchi's next start

Japanese rookie due for abbreviated outing as part of '19 plan
@gregjohnsmlb
May 31, 2019

SEATTLE -- While Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi is on schedule to start Tuesday against the Astros, manager Scott Servais will sit down with the rookie from Japan this weekend and lay out his plan, which now includes the possibility of skipping that outing completely. When the Mariners signed the 27-year-old

SEATTLE -- While Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi is on schedule to start Tuesday against the Astros, manager Scott Servais will sit down with the rookie from Japan this weekend and lay out his plan, which now includes the possibility of skipping that outing completely.

When the Mariners signed the 27-year-old free agent in January, they indicated that they’d limit his workload this first season in the Majors by using one-inning starts about once a month.

That approach began when Kikuchi threw just one inning in an April 26 start, and he’s due for another break now as the calendar turns to June, a point that was driven home further when he lasted just 3 1/3 innings in each of his past two starts while allowing a combined 20 hits and 11 runs (10 earned).

“I talked to Yusei today for a while and we discussed a number of things, kind of where he’s at at this point of the season,” Servais said prior to Friday’s game against the Angels. “We’ll make a decision on the short start or if there is going to be any start at all with him probably tomorrow, kind of a final decision on that.

“I wanted to get his feelings on how he feels physically. He feels fine physically. He’s a little frustrated. He got hit around in Oakland and hit around last night. When you get punched ,you’ve got to get up and punch back. That’s kind of where he’s at right now.”

Servais said that the idea of letting Kikuchi completely skip his turn has been “thrown out there, too,” which would allow further rest by eliminating the typical warmup and getting amped up for a shortened start.

Kikuchi’s velocity has been down a little in his past two starts, which could further push toward the idea of giving him a complete break. Either way, the Mariners will need to fill the innings Kikuchi doesn’t pitch. Rookie Justus Sheffield was called up to fill in after Kikuchi in his first abbreviated start, but Sheffield is slated to start on Saturday for Tacoma.

Veteran Jon Niese (3-1 with a 4.68 ERA in seven games, six starts) and 24-year-old lefty prospect Anthony Misiewicz (2-1, 4.42 ERA in four games, three starts) both pitched well in a doubleheader for Tacoma on Thursday and would be in line to pitch on normal rest again Tuesday. Rookie right-hander Erik Swanson would have been a logical candidate to be called back up, but he went on the injured list Friday with a hamstring issue.

“The whole goal with Yusei, I’ll be consistent with my messaging, when we signed him and brought him to Spring Training, we wanted to keep him healthy for the whole year,” Servais said. “Not just physically, but what you go through mentally as a pitcher.

"The ups and downs and learning from it and getting a routine that works for him and all that stuff. He’s done a lot of good things. He’s just gotten hit around a little the last couple times out, and he needs to make a little adjustment.”

Bullpen reinforcements on the way

Hard-throwing right-hander Gerson Bautista threw two scoreless innings with one hit in his latest outing for Tacoma on Thursday, and he will likely rejoin the club by the start of its next road trip next Friday when his 30-day rehab assignment window expires.

The 23-year-old was one of five players acquired from the Mets in the Edwin Diaz/Robinson Cano trade on Dec. 3 and he opened eyes early in Spring Training with a high-90s fastball. But Bautista strained his right pectoral muscle several weeks into camp.

“He’s coming along just fine,” Servais said. “He’s throwing the ball really well. I think he’s getting close to getting back here. I’d expect to be back at end of Houston series or right when we go back on the road.”

Additionally, veteran right-hander Chasen Bradford was recalled from Tacoma prior to Friday’s game to bolster a bullpen that was leaned on heavily in Thursday’s 9-3 loss to the Angels after Kikuchi only went 3 1/3 innings.

Rookie right-hander David McKay, who threw 34 pitches in a one-inning stint in that game, was optioned to Tacoma.

Worth noting

• Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion was a late scratch from Friday’s game due to a dental procedure, with Daniel Vogelbach taking his place in the lineup.

• Right-hander Ruben Alaniz was claimed off waivers by the Reds, which opens a spot on the 40-man roster. That spot could be used to add Bautista when he’s ready to come off the 60-day IL. Alaniz, 27, pitched four games for Seattle early in the season, allowing nine runs and three homers in four innings. He had a 6.39 ERA in 12 2/3 innings over 10 games with Tacoma, with 23 strikeouts and seven walks.

• Shortstop J.P. Crawford said he’s working out in the pool and trying to get the swelling out of his sprained left ankle, which he injured Monday. Crawford no longer is on crutches or a walking boot and said he remains hopeful of a short stint on the 10-day injured list, with Servais saying he’s still optimistic the 24-year-old could return in about two weeks.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.