General manager Jerry Dipoto notes Kikuchi's stamina should already be relatively high entering summer camp due to the throwing sessions he's been putting in over the last month, Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle reports. In reviewing the status of the team's projected starters ahead of the start of summer camp July 1, Dipoto assessed that Kikuchi and Justin Dunn may sport two of the most conditioned arms in the rotation at this point, considering they've worked out regularly at the Mariners' spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona and have been throwing "full tilt" against live hitters while building up to as much as 60 pitches. That level of activity bodes well for Kikuchi's chances of handling a fairly hefty workload right from the start of the shortened season, although Dipoto notes Seattle is expected to utilize a six-man rotation and have one starter "piggyback" another in early-season games.
Kikuchi, who has remained in the Arizona area while spring training has been suspended, should be one of the players that begins participating in informal workouts at the team's Peoria facility this week, Greg Johns of MLB.com reports. With MLB teams now allowed to grant restricted access to their spring training or home facilities in accordance with local guidelines, the Mariners will begin hosting staggered groups of players for informal workouts early this week. Given his proximity to the Peoria complex, Kikuchi is fully expected to be one of those participating moving forward. The southpaw, readying for his second season stateside after a successful career in Japan, was thought to be making impressive progress with both his velocity and command before Cactus League play was paused. Having access to certain amenities and equipment at the spring facility should allow Kikuchi to start getting back on track after he was forced to work out in more limited fashion in recent weeks.
Kikuchi demonstrated improved velocity and better command overall during Cactus League play before spring training was suspended, Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle reports. The southpaw worked on tweaking his delivery this offseason after an uneven first season stateside, and those changes appeared to already be paying dividends this spring. Kikuchi made three Cactus League starts, posting a 4.05 ERA over 6.2 innings while recording an impressive 10 strikeouts. Kikuchi also hit between 94 mph and 96 mph with his fastball and was in the 90-mph-91-mph range with his slider. Drayer also notes Kikuchi was generating an increased spin rate in camp and more frequently challenging hitters high with his power pitch, both potential harbingers of a more effective and confident pitcher in 2020.
Kikuchi continued to successfully incorporate a changeup during a four-inning simulated game Tuesday, Daniel Kramer of MLB.com reports. Kikuchi struck out half of the 14 batters he faced during the outing and elevated his fastball more in the zone, something he's been focused on doing more consistently this offseason and spring. The development of the changeup has also been a priority for the southpaw, as it would serve as a fourth pitch in a repertoire that already includes a four-seam fastball, a curveball and the mid-to-high 80s slider he most frequently used as his "out" pitch last season. Kikuchi's focus on refining the change, which he threw only 7.6 percent of the time in 2019, is starting to pay dividends. "It's getting better," said Austin Nola, who caught Kikuchi on Tuesday. "We're going to use it and keep trying it. I think it's a good feel pitch for him. Something that he can get his feel for and get his extension out front."
Kikuchi threw three scoreless innings Thursday against the Padres, giving up no hits while walking two and striking out five. His velocity was up to 96 mph in his final frame, according to Greg Johns of MLB.com. He started the game in the 92-94 mph range with his fastball before it started humming at 96. Last year he averaged just north of 93 mph on his four-seam fastball in March, April and May before it ticked down to 92 mph in the final four months of the season. When he was dominating in Japan, his fastball was a mid-90s pitch, so if he can sit in that range again, Kikuchi could be in for a post-hype breakout. He has given up three earned runs on four hits and five walks while striking out 10 over 6.2 innings in three spring outings.
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