HOUSTON — With young prospects Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield expected to join the Mariners for the final month of the season, Seattle could go from a four-man starting rotation to a six-man rotation.
It’s an idea the Mariners are kicking around as they monitor the total innings of Yusei Kikuchi in his first full season in Major League Baseball.
Kikuchi, 28, has made 23 starts this season, posting a 4-8 record with a 5.49 ERA. In 118 innings, he’s struck out 84 batters, issued 38 walks and allowed 28 homers, second-most in MLB.
Kikuchi has made four starts after some extended time off with the All-Star break. The Mariners had planned to give him a one-inning start or skip him after every fifth or sixth consecutive start as a way to manage his workload and fatigue. But Seattle has opted to go with a four-man rotation after Mike Leake was traded Wednesday, taking advantage of a multitude of off days. They wouldn’t need a fifth starter until the series in Tampa on Aug. 16-18.
They can’t give Kikuchi a one-inning day with only four starters. It would tax an already beleaguered and beat-up bullpen too much.
But when they go back to five starters, they could provide that break.
“We could still do that or just give him more of a break where we might actually go to six at some point, once we get to September and rosters expand,” Servais said. “We’ll talk about it when we get back home. He’s got to continue to grind through it and learn from it and make adjustments. We could give him a spot or short start, but right now we’ll keep him where he’s at and there’s a chance we go to six in September.”
This was supposed to be a season of adjustment for Kikuchi. The Mariners wanted to help him adapt to a different style of baseball. The introduction hasn’t been kind at times.
“Hopefully it clicks for him as we get down the stretch here in September or later this month where he puts it together,” Servais said. “He’s hearing a lot of different voices. It’s not just our coaches. There’s a lot of things people are throwing at him right now. And it takes a while before you get a good filter. I think it typically happens in your second and third year in the league, you stop trying to please everybody and you focus on just what I need to do to get the best version of me to come out.”
The Mariners have set an innings limit between 160 and 170 for Kikuchi. He threw 163.2 innings last season in Japan. And in 2017, he threw 187.2 innings, which was a career high. But the Mariners are comfortable with their limit.
“It’s just a different schedule here than Japan with having to pitch more frequently and whatnot and maybe a little bit more stressful innings,” Servais said. “We have to be patient with this. We said from Day 1 it’s a developmental year for him. There have been some good signs and some outings that haven’t been so good. He will learn from it.”