Today’s desert duel between the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds was about as Spring Training as a Spring Training game can be. We got our first looks at guys playing for their new teams, as Yusei Kikuchi and Edwin Encarnación debuted for the M’s and Alex Wood was adorned in red for the first time. We also got a glimpse of both teams’ futures, as prospects showcased the upsides that scouts have foretold.
Action revved up immediately as Kikuchi took the mound for his initial outing in America. Facing a consensus top-ten prospect in Nick Senzel, a consensus top-ten first baseman in Joey Votto, and a consensus top-ten heartthrob in Yasiel Puig, Kikuchi completed a tidy 1-2-3 inning. The noteworthy moment came on this curveball that ended Votto’s AB, which, despite hanging up in the zone, still fooled the former MVP.
Kikuchi’s first inning also included some nifty fielding. After Ryon Healy made a slick play to field a grounder, the Japanese pitcher showed his athleticism in beating Puig to the bag.
Kikuchi’s second and final inning of work began with a walk to Eugenio Suárez. His only hit allowed (and also his only hard contact allowed) came off Kyle Farmer’s bat, as the stocky Red laced a ball up the middle. A gorgeous 5-4-3 double play helped Kikuchi escape further damage and highlighted Shed Long’s versatility. Manning the hot corner this afternoon, Long fielded the ball smoothly and darted the ball to second, where Kristopher Negrón executed the turn and threw to first for the double play. One out later, Kikuchi’s day was finished. All told, the lefty tossed 29 pitches and faced eight hitters, inducing four groundouts and the dastardly strikeout of Votto.
Probably the biggest takeaway from this brief appearance was Kikuchi allegedly hitting 95 MPH on the radar gun. Deception—both in his delivery and secondary pitches—is the name of his game, and those elements will only be heightened by a blazing fastball. Things like command and pitch sequencing will advance with more practice and coaching, and are absolutely not worth fretting about in late-February. However, a heater in the mid-90s is significant no matter how small the sample size. That, plus eliciting a barfy swing from a world-class hitter, are the two largest bullet points from Kikuchi’s start.
Seattle enjoyed several tastes of Cincinnati pitching, starting the feast right from the get go. Shed Long continued networking with the bases in Peoria, reaching this time on a leadoff walk to start the game. Long then advanced on a subsequent wild pitch, and scored when Edwin Encarnación smacked the base of the wall on a double. EE just missed a chance to unveil the parrot in his first plate appearance for the M’s, but appeared to miss the barrel by a centimeter or two. Even still, Encarnación muscled the ball to the warning track, on not his best swing, in his first look at actual game pitching since October. Should he stick around, Encarnación’s goliath strength will greatly help ease our collective grief over Nelson Cruz’s departure.
Two batters later, another goliath stepped to the plate. While Edwin’s ball fizzled out before clearing the fence, Domingo Santana’s scraped the heavens before descending over the wall, narrowly missing an innocent canine.
Please note that this homer traveled approximately 430 feet, and Mike Blowers thought Santana “just missed it” upon the ball hitting the bat. While most of Spring Training is dedicated to the up-and-comers, and whether or not their “man muscles” have arrived yet, Domingo Santana already possesses the muscles of at least 12 men. If he loses playing time to Jay Bruce I will tie myself to the left field foul pole in an act of defiant protest.
The middle innings of Monday’s game marked our final sightings of regular big-leaguers. Shawn Armstrong flashed a filthy slider in the third to fan Votto, and also K’d Suárez on three pitches. This entire season of relief appearances will feel something like an audition, and Armstrong displayed a possible fit for a supporting role today. In the bottom of the third, facing an established MLB pitcher in Michael Lorenzen, 23-year-old Kyle Lewis introduced himself to the Cactus League spectators.
That two-run tater put the Mariners ahead 5-2, but more importantly, showcased Lewis’ ability to mash good pitching, even if it is the Spring Training version. In case you weren’t totally thrilled, the always internet-savvy Julio Rodriguez was there to conduct the hype train.
Get you a friend who supports your excellence like Julio Rodriguez supports Kyle Lewis pic.twitter.com/GKoutZcIXL— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) February 25, 2019
As per usual with Spring Training affairs, things began to peter out as the good players left and made way for the 63s, 74s, and 89s of the world. There were still some bits worth celebrating, though.
Mariners vs. Reds Cactus League Highlights ~ February 25, 2019:
- Dan Altavilla recorded all three of his outs via the strikeout, including one on a slider that looked like it went between the hitter’s legs?! Spring Training is the best, y’all. Diesel Dan did also surrender a massive home run to Phillip Ervin, who will have bragging rights at the CrossFit gym.
- Cal Raleigh and Evan White each logged a single.
- Ian Miller hit a home run!
- The Reds had a Josh VanMeter and a Gavin LaValley, each of whom were surely discovered at an Orange County mall.
- Evan White clubbed an opposite-field double off the top of the wall.
- Joey Votto fan boy’d over Kikuchi.
Joey Votto on Kikuchi: 'Very good curveball. It's very surprising. In the league right now, there are not many pitchers that throw a curveball like. Ryu for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers, maybe a couple of others that throw a very traditional curveball like that.'— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) February 25, 2019
- The Mariners won 11-3, elating everyone who bet the over on today’s run total.