Tiedemann faces live hitters with return to game action on horizon

Kikuchi fine tunes changeup in final simulated game

March 3rd, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When the bus rides start to stretch beyond two hours in Spring Training, the most important action of the day often takes place back at the Blue Jays’ complex.

After Alek Manoah was scratched from Sunday’s start down the coast in Fort Myers, the spotlight shifted back to Dunedin where Yusei Kikuchi and No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann were facing their own hitters, which fit each of their needs better than a road trip on March 3.

In Tiedemann’s case, this was a controlled environment for him to ease back into after a minor hamstring and calf issue cost him some time early in camp. Tiedemann, the No. 29 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, looked fantastic, drawing the same, large crowd of teammates who flock to any field he pitches on. With this box checked, Tiedemann is fully confident he can get up to the four-inning range by the end of camp, which is enough to start the season on time.

“Hopefully, late this coming week I’ll be able to get back out there in a game,” Tiedemann said. “It also depends on starting to run again, starting to field, making sure all of that is intact, because you’re going to get those ground balls to first base where I need to run over and cover. I’ve got to be able to do that, but I think this week, I’ll be in.”

Tiedemann called Sunday’s session “slider dominant,” which applies in more ways than one.

Working through a group of hitters which included Daulton Varsho, Cavan Biggio, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Peyton Henry, Tiedemann threw that pitch far more than you’d see in a traditional game setting -- and it dazzled. In one at-bat against Varsho, Tiedemann set up a two-strike count with a high heater that Varsho barely got a piece of. Then came that slider, snapping away from Varsho violently for strike three.

Once Tiedemann graduates back into game action, he can get back to working on his full arsenal.

“It’s more about all of them working at the same time for me,” Tiedemann said. “The days that I have all three working are my best days, obviously, and I think that’s it for every pitcher. Just being able to have them sharpened up. For most games in the year, you’re not going to have your best stuff every game, so you’ve got to deal with that. It’s about sharpening all three and throwing strikes with all three.”

Mixing in with Tiedemann, inning for inning, was Kikuchi, which gave the Japanese left-hander a front-row seat.

“I’m really jealous of his stuff,” Kikuchi said through a club interpreter, breaking into a smile. “He’s got really good stuff, just watching him. He struggled with injuries a little bit last year, so I hope that he stays healthy, because he’s a big part of this organization moving forward.”

Kikuchi’s session, unlike Tiedemann’s, featured a full defense behind him to simulate more of a game atmosphere.

Kikuchi’s final three starts of Spring Training will take place in Grapefruit League games, but he used one final sim game to throw a heavy dose of changeups and focus in on that individual pitch. It also helps that he can huddle up with his own teammates after the session, asking them what the movement and location of that changeup looked like from their perspective.

These aren’t exactly questions that Kikuchi can ask Aaron Judge and Rafael Devers.

“The sim game is great, because I get a lot of feedback from the hitters,” Kikuchi said, “and they especially complimented the changeup. I was able to see how they were reacting. I think that was really good.”

It was an impressive sight, seeing two left-handed starters with such electric stuff going back-to-back. The towering, broad-shouldered Tiedemann generates his velocity so much differently than Kikuchi, whose core strength allows him to uncoil and maximize the output of his smaller frame, but each overwhelmed hitters in their own way.

If all goes well for Tiedemann in the coming days, each of their next starts will come against hitters wearing jerseys of a different color.