Kikuchi pumped for first showdown with Tanaka
SEATTLE -- For Yusei Kikuchi, every game this season has been big as he learns the Major League game. But you can put an exclamation mark on Tuesday night’s matchup with the Yankees as the rookie from Japan squares off against countryman Masahiro Tanaka for the first time. The 7:10 p.m. PT/10:10 p.m. ET tilt is available free on MLB.TV.
Kikuchi is coming off his best outing with the Mariners -- a two-hit shutout of the Blue Jays -- and was given a planned break after that dominant performance, skipping his last start and now pitching on an extra four days of rest.
That layoff lined up Kikuchi for a showdown with Tanaka, his first time facing a fellow Japanese hurler in the Majors.
Having grown up near Tanaka’s hometown in Japan, Kikuchi holds his 30-year-old counterpart in high regard. The two met on the field at T-Mobile Park prior to Monday’s series opener and chatted amicably, just as they had in New York when the Mariners visited there earlier this season.
But they didn’t face each other in that series, nor did they pitch against each other in Japan before Tanaka came to the U.S. at age 25.
“First and foremost, when Skip told me I was facing the Yankees, I was very excited,” Kikuchi said through translator Justin Novak. “I was really pumped to face a really good team like this. And also on top of that, I found out it’s going to be against Mr. Tanaka on the other side. So it’s going to be a very special game and moment for me.”
Though Kikuchi is only 2 1/2 years younger than Tanaka, he grew up considering Tanaka as one of his idols.
“His high school was actually very close to my high school,” Kikuchi said. “They won the championship one year, and I remember watching that as a kid. Even when he came to the States, even from his first year, he’s been performing and is still performing now. So he’s a huge role model to all the pitchers in Japan.”
Tanaka, who is 9-7 with a 4.68 ERA in 26 starts this season, said he’s kept an eye on Kikuchi’s progress and is eager for the matchup as well.
“There’s only a handful of Japanese players, or pitchers for that matter, in the league,” Tanaka said through translator Shingo Horie. “To be able to go out there and go against each other, it will be a fun thing, so I’m looking forward to it.”
After getting off to a solid start with the Mariners, Kikuchi struggled for a lengthy stretch before his sterling outing in Toronto. He brings a 5-8 record and 5.19 ERA into the game and a desire to let the television audience back in Japan see his progress.
“To everyone back home, I want to show them a really good matchup and go out there and compete for my team and show the fans what we are made of,” he said.
• Mariners reliever Brandon Brennan threw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Monday in his second time off the mound since going on the 10-day injured list in mid-August with right shoulder fatigue. He’ll report to Triple-A Tacoma for a rehab outing on Thursday in Fresno, then hopes to be back with the Mariners when rosters are expanded in September.
• Domingo Santana continued to do conditioning work on Monday, but he still isn’t throwing as he continues resting the strained right elbow that landed him on the 10-day injured list last week.