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Notes: Kikuchi a 'different guy'; catching plans

@gregjohnsmlb
March 5, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- One of the Mariners’ key questions this spring surrounds the development of second-year starter Yusei Kikuchi, and the 28-year-old from Japan delivered another strong showing in Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Padres. Kikuchi threw three scoreless innings while giving up no hits alongside two walks and five

PEORIA, Ariz. -- One of the Mariners’ key questions this spring surrounds the development of second-year starter Yusei Kikuchi, and the 28-year-old from Japan delivered another strong showing in Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Padres.

Kikuchi threw three scoreless innings while giving up no hits alongside two walks and five strikeouts in his third Cactus League outing. Most encouraging, Kikuchi overcame two first-inning freebies to retire the final seven batters he faced and hiked his velocity up to 96 mph in his final frame.

“Compared to last year, I’m already in such a better spot,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “Not just velocity-wise, but overall. Each time out I’ve had fewer things I need to work on during the game, which is a good thing. I think it’s huge that I was able to get a strikeout with three different pitches today.”

Kikuchi closed out his outing by blowing a 96 mph fastball past Trent Grisham and then freezing Jurickson Profar with an 87 mph curve.

“We’ve seen the velo be higher all spring with Yusei,” manager Scott Servais said. “It started off in the game in the 92-94 range, but then as he got comfortable -- along with the curveball -- we saw some 96s as he went. He’s looked really good all spring. He looks like a different guy. I’m excited as he continues to get stretched out here this spring and it allows him to work more of his pitches in. Today was really good.”

Timeshare behind the plate
While Tom Murphy figures to get the most playing time at catcher this year, Servais said backup Austin Nola will get plenty of time as well.

With Omar Narváez traded to the Brewers, both Murphy and Nola will see their workloads increase. Nola primarily played first base last season, but he is focused strictly on catching this year. And he’ll get a healthy number of games there if things go to plan.

“I think it’s really going to be a balance,” Servais said. “Everybody says, 'Oh, Murphy is the starting catcher.’ He’ll start Opening Night, probably. We’ll see. But those guys are going to be more of a 55-45 [percent split]. They’re both going to play a very similar amount.

“I don’t think you put too much of a load on either one of them, and at the end of the day, we’ll look up and hopefully have very good production out of that position. We had great production out of it last year.”

Don’t read too much into lineups
Servais had Shed Long Jr. leading off in Thursday's game against the Padres, a spot he’s filled in all eight Cactus League games he’s started. It’s clear the Mariners want to give the young second baseman a chance to show what he can do atop the order, though he’s off to a slow start at the plate and batting .190 (4-for-21) after an 0-for-2 outing against San Diego.

But other than Kyle Seager consistently batting third and Daniel Vogelbach fourth, Servais has toyed with numerous combinations throughout the spring.

“Probably more toward the end of camp, you’ll see it settle in and what it looks like,” Servais said. “Often times it’s more about who needs the at-bats.”

Not that he hasn’t pondered the possibilities.

“I kind of have an idea of who might hit in the middle of our lineup as we go along,” Servais said. “Certainly Vogey is going to be in the middle, Seager is going to be in the middle. We are finding out about Kyle Lewis and Evan White and some of these other guys. I wouldn’t read too much into it. It’s going to change throughout the season as well.

“Like I told a number of these guys that are moving around, ‘Hey, as long as you are in the top nine, don’t fret it. Don’t worry about it.’ When you are hitting 10th or 11th, then you have bigger issues.”

Haniger still healing
Mitch Haniger’s rehab process is still moving along slowly as the Mariners' right fielder is limited to walking for about another week before he begins ramping up his rehab process.

The 29-year-old had a microdiscectomy three weeks ago to repair a herniated disc, his second surgery in a three-week period. He had surgery in early February to repair a torn adductor muscle that was an after-effect from last season’s surgery for a ruptured testicle in June.

That string of events has kept Haniger sidelined for nine months, and there’s still no timetable on his return, though the 2018 American League All-Star is optimistic that he’s finally on the road to a full recovery.

Short hops from Peoria
• Seattle’s next three games will be available on television and MLB.TV, including a pair of MLB Network games on Friday and Sunday that will be televised live in the Seattle market. Friday’s 5:05 p.m. PT game is against the Dodgers, while Sunday's 1:05 p.m. PT tilt comes against San Francisco. Saturday's 12:10 p.m. PT contest will come against the A’s as a ROOT Sports telecast.

Taijuan Walker came out of Wednesday’s intersquad "B" game in good shape and will likely move into the Cactus League rotation on Monday, when the Mariners take on the Brewers in a 7:05 p.m. PT game in Phoenix.

Up next
Nick Margevicius, a 23-year-old lefty claimed off waivers from the Padres in January, will be on the hill for the Mariners' first night game of the spring as they travel to Camelback Ranch in Glendale to face the Dodgers in a 5:05 p.m. PT contest, live on MLB Network and MLB.TV. Right-hander Erik Swanson and promising prospects Joey Gerber and Aaron Fletcher are among the relievers slated to follow.

No. 1 starter Marco Gonzales originally was slated to start, but he will instead throw 3-4 innings in an afternoon intersquad "B" game at the Peoria Complex.

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