Early on, it should’ve been much worse.
We got there eventually.
Yusei Kikuchi cruised through a first inning that maintained the promise of a low-key pitchers duel with his counterpart Chris Paddack. By the second and third, however, Kikuchi was flirting with fire. He ran three-ball count after three-ball count, skirting disaster twice with just a run in through three. The fourth held no such relief. The Padres punished his few pitches over the plate, and spat (metaphorically, as actual spitting is of course verboten) on anything off of it. A Manny Machado three run homer with two on and two out pushed what felt like a chance to capitalize on missed opportunities into an insurmountable pit. 5-0 through four doesn’t always feel final, but today it was.
Some pitchers wear their energy on their sleeves more than others, but Kikuchi appeared to labor significantly despite little trouble amping up his velocity to 95-97 his entire outing. The extra ticks of velocity were useful the few times he was near the zone, such as when he set down Fernando Tatis Jr., but too often in his career-high six walks came with nothing threatening in key counts.
The Mariners are in a playoff race by happenstance more than design, but with the Astros losing to Arizona and the Blue Jays dropping both sides of a doubleheader to the Phillies, it was an opportunity for Seattle to take a game with a veteran arm on the mound. Instead, the most disappointing outing of Kikuchi’s season brought back more memories of his inconsistent 2019 than the encouraging strides of his 2020, velocity notwithstanding. We’ll get just one more look at Kikuchi this year, likely in Oakland, where he’ll hopefully give a sharp final memory before the winter.
The Mariners offense, meanwhile, didn’t leave their bats in San Francisco so much as they simply never packed them at all in their hurry to leave smoke-choked Seattle. As Kate mentioned in yesterday’s recap, three games without a dinger (including the second game of Monday’s doubleheader) is not a recipe for success in the modern game. Until the 8th inning, the M’s were on the exact same trajectory tonight, without a runner reaching second base. Mercifully, Evan White put together a few capable plate appearances, including a towering home run into the third deck of the Western Metal Supply building. White’s struggles with contact in the zone are troublesome, but his ability to avoid chasing and hard contact are something to hold to, if nothing else. Most hitters don’t hit good pitches well, but they have to at least hit bad ones, even breaking balls. White did that tonight at least.
We’re seeing the equivalent of the dog days of August here, transitioning into the stretch run, and Seattle’s unexpected extended road trip is an understandable strain, but things get no easier tomorrow. Winning listless games is a luxury reserved for excellent teams like the Padres, not the Mariners, but there are just nine opportunities left. Nine chances to show more than what they did tonight.