Kikuchi adjusting to life in the big leagues

Japanese southpaw makes mound debut at Mariners camp

February 13th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For Yusei Kikuchi, there'll be some adjustments to pitching in the Major Leagues after nine years in Japan.

One of the first? Figuring out what to do with his spare time.

The 27-year-old made his mound debut at Mariners camp on Wednesday with a 10-minute bullpen session that provided the Mariners a glimpse into what their new free agent has to offer.

Kikuchi said he threw about 50 pitches. And then he wanted to throw more.

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"In Japan, you can go into the bullpen any time you want and throw for as long as you want, so that's the No. 1 adjustment," Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak. "I've never pitched with a time limit like that."

Then there's the fact that his Japanese teams sometimes worked out as long as 10 hours a day. Japanese teams are noted for their precision, and Kikuchi said that time was spent going over signs, doing fielding drills, conditioning and fundamentals.

The Mariners' first days of workouts with pitchers and catchers start with an hour-long team meeting and chalk talk, with the players then on the field for about another hour and a half, followed by individual conditioning and some time looking at film. That's typical for MLB squads.

Those days will get longer once full-squad workouts start on Saturday and extend further when Cactus League games begin Feb. 21, but the MLB routine will never rival that of the Japanese squads.

"I did actually talk to [Hisashi] Iwakuma and some former players about the schedule and the differences, but once you come here it's different from what you hear," he said. "Once you're here, it's like, wow, this is really short."

Don't get Kikuchi wrong, however. His life-long goal has been to pitch in the Majors and he's soaking up the experience, having arrived 10 days ago to get an early feel for his new situation.

"Everyone is really friendly," he said. "My teammates are amazing. The coaching staff is really awesome. I'm really happy about the situation I'm in and very excited to get going."

Kikuchi said he'll respect his new team's wishes to limit his bullpen outings, but likely add some workout routines of his own after practices.

He's also adjusting to a slightly different mound, the Major League ball that has lower seams and a different grip, as well as an entirely new culture. All of which is exactly why he arrived early.

"I feel I'm moving in the right direction," he said. "I just have to learn how to adjust and talk to the coaches and see what I need to do and get done. I just want come here and be part of the team and do it the way Americans do it and just go out and perform."

One thing Kikuchi will adapt easily to is the Mariners' increasing use of Rapsodo and PitchTrack to provide instant feedback and analysis following throwing sessions. He's used similar technology the past two years in Japan and welcomes that advancement.

"He's very routine oriented, which most Japanese players are," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "He's very into the numbers, the data and the technology. He wants to get better. We love YK. That's why we signed him."

And while Kikuchi feels he has to adjust to the MLB way, Servais isn't so certain that is the case.

"We don't want him to change," Servais said. "I think sometimes players come over and they think they have to do things a little differently. He doesn't. He's been a very successful pitcher in Japan. We think he'll have a lot of success here. We just have to let him be who he is.

"I'm excited to have him in our clubhouse. He's very outgoing. He speaks the language. He wants to learn. He wants to be a good teammate. I'm really excited to see how it plays out for him. And he's got great stuff, there's no doubt about that."