Kikuchi delivers much needed gem, helps lift Jays to 4-1 win over Rays
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Friday, July 1, 2022
Final Score: 4-1
TORONTO–Yusei Kikuchi spent most of his June under delivering in ineffective starts that oftentimes saw him being the biggest downfall for this Blue Jays team.
You could say there was a certain level of pessimism amongst Blue Jays fans, and although they would never admit it, in the Blue Jays clubhouse whenever Kikuchi is on the mound.
Skipper Charlie Montoyo hadn’t even ruled out the possibility that Kikuchi may get bumped from his spot in the rotation. But with an injury-riddled bullpen being way over-taxed and five games in four days against a competitive Tampa Bay Rays team on the horizon, Kikuchi took the mound on Thursday night with very much a well, let’s see how this goes, mentality.
But what a pleasant surprise it was, one that was needed both by the Blue Jays, but even more so for Kikuchi himself.
They got the best version of Kikuchi that exists on Thursday's series opener at Rogers Centre, as the lefty produced six innings of one-run baseball allowing just four hits while striking out a season high eight on the night. The performance earned him the win in the 4-1 victory over the Rays
“His stuff is so good,” Montoyo said afterwards. “That’s the key. If you throw strikes, you’re going to get people out. That’s what he did tonight, and that was huge. We needed those six innings because of how our bullpen has been used.”
Kikuchi had help behind him as the offence generated enough run support to help the cause. Teoscar Hernandez and Santiago Espinal both homered, while Matt Chapman continued displaying some flashy leather at third to help make up for his inconsistent contribution at the plate
But it was Kikuchi’s performance that seemed to be the showstopper as many questions had come to the forefront surrounding his future. Many speculated that consistently poor performances would slowly start to lose the faith of his teammates, but these rumours were quickly shot down, as Kikuchi made sure to thank his clubhouse for the continued support during his recent stretch.
“There was a rough stretch there, but they always seemed to have my back,” he said. “It makes it that much more special.”
Espinal echoed the sentiment stating, “We’re together 24/7, so basically we’re his family. We’re all family here. Whatever he does, we’ve got his back. It doesn’t matter if he does good, it doesn’t matter if he does bad, we’ve always got his back. Today he showed up.”
Kikuchi seemed to follow suit from Kevin Gausman who, despite a stretch of iffy starts as well, delivered an absolute gem in Monday night’s series opener against the Red Sox. With a thin bullpen lacking consistent swing and miss guys, the starting rotation will need to continue their upturn of performances for the foreseeable future.
INJURY REPORT/ROSTER MOVES
C Danny Jansen (left metacarpal fracture) continues rehabbing his hand as the 27-year-old has been playing catch and working in the cage. He is inching closer to taking live BP and is aiming for an early July return to the lineup. The bullpen is still dealing with some speed bumps though as RHP Trevor Richards (neck strain), RHP Julian Merryweather (left oblique strain), and LHP Andrew Vasquez (right foot/ankle) are all still question marks. Richards had a live session against Blue Jays hitters on the 27th ahead of their Red Sox series, and is hoping to be back in early July, with the other two still seemingly producing no timetable for their returns.
The Blue Jays and Rays will go for game two of five on Friday afternoon for Canada Day here at the Rogers Centre. The Birds will send Jose Berrios (5-4, 5.86 ERA) to the mound who, after a string of strong starts, has struggled in his two most recent, going 2 2/3 in his previous outing against the Brewers. Tampa will counter with Corey Kluber (3-4, 3.45 ERA) who has been a consistent arm for them going into the fifth inning in eight of his previous 10 starts.