Strong return for Kikuchi as Jays take opener against Detroit

Stefan Luciani
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Friday, July 29, 2022

Final Score: 5-3

TORONTO–This time one month ago, there were plenty of questions surrounding one thing - what does the future for Yusei Kikuchi look like? 


The Japanese lefty had been struggling mightily unable to secure any form of pitch command to give up walks in tight situations and get absolutely shelled when he wasn’t doing that, often forcing management to dip into an already overtaxed bullpen sometimes in just the third inning. 


But after a stint in the IL and some rehab games in Buffalo, Kikuchi was feeling good about a big league return. So what better team is there for a start like this than the 40-59 Detroit Tigers?


Kikuchi looked confident in his first outing back with his slider - apparently remastered - looking sharper than ever, with the lefty finally focussing on utilizing his fastball far more than he had been prior. The result was a five inning effort in which he allowed just one run on two hits while sitting down five Tiger batters. The performance was about as efficient as he’d been all season as he needed just 67 pitches to pick up the 5-3 win over Detroit. 


“This is going to be one of those bounce-back outings for me," Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando afterwards. “Definitely felt great, start to end tonight. I think I could ride this wave and hopefully, it continues for many outings to come.”


Manager John Schneider was the voice of wisdom though, quick to emphasize the importance of not getting bogged down in one start, afterall, consistency hasn’t exactly been a staple in Kikuchi’s game.


“You don't want to make it a knee-jerk reaction after one outing or something like that,” is how Schneider put it before the game. “We trust the work that he's put in, the adjustments that he's made. … I think we have a little bit of room for some runway and there's always time to make a quick adjustment if you need to. We obviously like him. We’ve invested in him and we trust that he's going to go out and perform.”


The bats were swinging again on Thursday night after a cool off period in the second of their two-game split against St. Louis on Wednesday. The offence racked up 10 hits on the night including two home runs from a very hot Matt Chapman. Following what was a slow start to the season for him, he has picked up his game hitting .311 over his last 30, but over .500 in his last seven going 9-for-13 with three homers and nine RBIs.


Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk added in RBIs with the latter, producing what was quite an entertaining ordeal amongst the dugout during the game. Following his first hit, Kirk was on first before taking off for an attempted steal of second with Bo Bichette at the plate. Bo fouled the offering up before coaches and players alike could be seen laughing throughout the rest of the game anytime Kirk was at the plate or on base. 


It wasn’t all sunshine and waterfalls for the Blue Jays though as George Springer was yet again taken out of the game after fouling off a pitch to the right side. Springer could be seen instantly wincing and grabbing for his troublesome elbow before being removed. After the game Schneider was quick to downplay the severity of the injury. 


“He’s feeling good, he really is,” describing his “little bit of elbow discomfort” as being “a little worse than it is right now” and added that he’ll be re-evaluated Friday.


The Jays now find themselves a full two games clear of the Tampa Bay Rays in the East, still 11.5 back from the division leading Yankees, but Toronto also holds the sole AL Wildcard top spot ahead of the AL West’s Seattle Mariners. 


They’ll go for game two of four tonight at the Rogers Centre as Alek Manoah (11-4, 2.24 ERA) will get the nod, first pitch flies at just after 7PM EST.