After dropping both split-squad games yesterday, the Mariners rebounded today behind some strong pitching and an offensive outburst from Spring Training stalwarts Shed Long, Kyle Lewis, and Tim Lopes, as well as some contributions from less-Spring Training stalwarts Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon. But the story of today was the pitching, as the Mariners staff struck out 11, just enough to counterbalance the 10 strikeouts posted by their offense. Somewhere pitching coach Rob Marcello Jr., chief conductor on the Ticket-Punching Express, is very happy.
Yusei Kikuchi showed some sharper command than his first outing while maintaining his velocity, at one point touching 96. After a sharp first inning where he retired the side 1-2-3 on three groundouts, Kikuchi was a little shakier in the second, walking David Peralta, striking out Christian Walker, and then walking Travis Snider. Kikuchi would rebound to strike out Yasmany Tomas and Andy Young (the pitcher), getting Young on an 84 mph slider. The other strikeouts were on a pitch labeled 92-93 mph which the broadcast booth theorized might be a cutter but per Kikuchi is an amped-up version of his slider.
Kikuchi might be getting fun. In addition to the increased and sustained velocity on the fb (lots of 96s), he's increased the velo on the slider. That 90-91 mph pitch he was throwing? It was the slider. Said he threw one 93 today. I believe 2 of his k's in the 2nd were the slider— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) February 28, 2020
In an interesting postgame quote, Kikuchi said he’s been enjoying throwing more this spring, and threw this curious little bit of Yusheide: “I’m able to throw a lot more this year because Woody, the new pitching coach, believes in me and trusts me.” He went on to admit that someone needs to tell him to stop because otherwise he’ll just keep on throwing, but he did sound pleased about the opportunity to throw more pitches, and it’s good to hear that Yusei is already feeling good about his new pitching coach.
Kikuchi went 2.1 innings before surrendering a double to Starling Marte, at which point he was lifted for Scott Boches, who gave up an RBI single to Eduardo Escobar but was able to get the final two outs of the inning to prevent further damage. The Mariners pitching staff was sharp today; Nestor Cortes worked two innings and gave up a run on two hits but struck out three, and Joey Gerber and Wyatt Mills each worked scoreless innings. Zac Grotz spun an effortless 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts. Ian McKinney, in his first big-league spring training action since 2018, closed out the game facing four of Arizona’s top prospects in Pavin Smith, Seth Beer, Geraldo Perdomo, and Daulton Varsho, and while he did walk Perdomo, he retired Smith and Varsho on some weak contact (an easy groundout and a popout) and struck out Beer.
Offensively, the Mariners made hay with D-Backs starter Andy Young in the second when they hit for the rare reverse-inning-cycle, starting with this Kyle Lewis moonshot:
Kyle Lewis' first homer of the spring came on a 0-1 fastball from Alex Young. pic.twitter.com/lpaJpEMkIZ— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 28, 2020
Jose Marmolejos followed that with a triple; next Tim Tim Lopes Lopes the Doubles Man hit his fifth double of the spring, and Dee Gordon followed that up with a single, giving the Mariners a 2-0 edge. Young led off the next inning by walking Jake Fraley, who promptly swiped second, and then the team continued to put the screws to Riley Smith, who replaced Young, with some small ball: a single by Austin Nola and an RBI groundout for Lewis.
The Mariners continued to be pests on the bases in the fourth; Dee Gordon singled and took second on a wild pitch, later scoring on a Shed Long single, who himself promptly stole second. They would add two more runs in the sixth on a Mallex Smith double, his first hit of the spring, and yet another Shed Long RBI single, for their fifth and sixth runs of the day and an easy breezy beautiful 6-2 victory.
Tomorrow’s game is on TV, when the Mariners will host the Royals at 12:10 PT at the Peoria Sports Complex. Marco Gonzales will get the start and attempt to improve on a shaky first spring start where he couldn’t clear the first inning. Hopefully his start will follow a similar upward trajectory as Kikuchi’s.