Notes: Gilbert K's Ohtani; Kikuchi's pitch mix

March 11th, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The matchups that panned out on Tuesday could be the first of many in the landscape of the American League West. Logan Gilbert, the Mariners’ top pitching prospect, squared off against Jo Adell and Shohei Ohtani, two long-term fixtures in a loaded Angels lineup.

Both sides each got their first taste of the many possible duels in the coming years, and Gilbert came out on the prevailing end during Seattle’s 3-1 win. The towering 22-year-old struck out Adell on a sweeping slider, and Ohtani with a mid-70s curve, as part of a two-inning outing that could be his last in Cactus League, unless the club opts to give him more reps against big leaguers.

“That was pretty cool,” Gilbert said of striking out Ohtani. “Of course, he's a big deal. I saw him on TV for a few years now and to be able to face him like that was pretty cool.”

Gilbert is on a fast track to the Majors, with an expected arrival as soon as mid-summer. He’s excelled at every level, has the innings buildup to pitch deep into the season and gained more confidence in his third and fourth pitches this spring -- all indicators before a pitcher makes the leap to the big leagues.

“He is getting comfortable, and he knows that it's not going to be long. He's going to help us in Seattle real soon,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

The Mariners don’t need to peg an immediate timeline for their 2018 first-round Draft pick, and Gilbert won’t truly begin to build his season-long workload until the Minor League season begins one month from now. But, depending on how Seattle’s thin starting pitching depth withstands the early leg of the season, and if Gilbert pitches comparably or better than he did in 2019, he could make a strong bid to contribute sooner than later.

Gilbert was 10-5 with a 2.13 ERA in 26 starts across three Minor League stops last year, over a career-high 135 innings. That type of workload lends itself to a far longer leash.

“He can carry innings. We can let him go,” Servais said. “I think when he's going along pretty well, he's pretty pitch-count efficient. He gets it going in a good way there. I don’t think there will be any holding him back. He did all that innings [building] last year and he didn’t pitch the whole month of September. I think he should be fine.

“I would love to have him pitch through September this year. That'd be the goal. We'll see. He'll let us know.”

Kikuchi polishing fourth pitch
Yusei Kikuchi continued to incorporate his changeup during a four-inning simulated game, striking out half of the 14 batters he faced and elevating his fastball more up in the zone. Aside from installing a simplified delivery, these are the practices that Kikuchi’s bid for a 2020 bounceback could hinge on.

At times last season, opposing hitters suggested that Kikuchi lacked deception because his stuff looked too similar. This spring, he’s hit 96 mph, is working toward creating more velocity variance to his slider (86-87 mph range) and polishing his curveball -- “a real pitch” which could help him better tunnel off his fastball, Servais said.

But a big part of his success could also be dictated by his developing changeup, which would act as a fourth pitch to go with his four-seamer, curveball (which Servais has raved about) and slider (his most prominent out pitch). Kikuchi threw his changeup just 7.6 percent of the time last year, per Statcast, and in that small sample, opposing batters hit .200 and slugged .364 against it.

“It’s getting better,” said Austin Nola, who caught Kikuchi on Tuesday. “We’re going to use it and keep trying it. I think it’s a good feel pitch for him. Something that he can get his feel for and get his extension out front."

Moore exits after HBP
Infielder Dylan Moore left Tuesday’s game after being plunked above his right wrist by a 93 mph fastball from Angels' righty Dylan Bundy during the third inning, but X-rays came back negative. Servais said that it’s likely a deep bone bruise.

Moore has had a strong spring, albeit a beleaguered one. He’s slashed .400/.600/.800 over seven games, but has undergone concussion testing after a head collision in a stolen base attempt, and he's also been nursing a sore calf the past few days.

Moore has a decent shot to break camp with the big league club due to his defensive versatility, after playing six positions over 113 games in 2019 as the Mariners’ primary utility man last season as a rookie. If the Mariners opt not to break with veteran Carlos González, they could keep Moore and Tim Lopes to split time as the fourth outfielder.

Up next
No. 1 starter Marco Gonzales’ march toward the possibility of pitching his second straight Opening Day start will continue on Wednesday, when the Mariners stay in Peoria but play as the visiting team against the Padres at 6:40 p.m. PT. Gonzales threw four innings during a simulated game on Friday and will likely be on target for a similar mark in the 60-pitch range. Big right-hander Dinelson Lamet will start for San Diego. Lamet took a no-hitter into the seventh in Seattle last August.