MLB

Yusei Kikuchi almost no-hits Astros, Mariners win

Hours after Marco Gonzales was transferred to the injured list on Thursday, Kikuchi twirled a gem in the Mariners’ 1-0 victory at Minute Maid Park, no-hitting the Astros through 6 1/3 innings before allowing an opposite-field double to Carlos Correa. Kikuchi finished his seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts and two walks, an exhibition of the southpaw at his most dominant.

“I can’t say enough about his competitiveness today,” manager Scott Servais said. “That’s what really stood out to me.”

Kikuchi had every pitch in his arsenal working against Houston, but none more than his cutter, which generated 21 called strikes and whiffs.

With all his stuff working, Kikuchi not only kept the American League’s highest-scoring offense off the scoreboard but on the ground, generating 10 ground balls according to Statcast, which is tied for the most in a single game in his career. In the bottom of the second inning, all three outs came on the ground, all the more impressive given Houston’s depth of weapons.

“I was able to go inside hard with my cutter, and go soft and away with my changeup,” Kikuchi said via an interpreter. “That played really well today. Controlling the height, as well, on all of my pitches.”

Kikuchi’s masterful outing came following the news that Gonzales will miss his next couple of starts with a left forearm strain, the latest setback to a starting rotation that has already suffered several blows.

Along with Gonzales, James Paxton underwent season-ending surgery last week and Nick Margevicius was diagnosed with left shoulder inflammation. The Mariners have already dipped into their bullpen for help, promoting long man Ljay Newsome to the rotation. It’s far from where the Mariners want to be before May has even begun.

Down several arms, Kikuchi understood the extra weight that he and the other starters must carry.

“Not just myself, but the entire staff definitely needs to step up and throw long innings deep into the ball game,” Kikuchi said. “An extra inning, even just an extra out.”

Kikuchi displayed his willingness to record every out possible in the bottom of the seventh with a fine display of athleticism. Yuli Gurriel hit a chopper right in front of home plate that spelled trouble, but Kikuchi made a hard first step toward home before fielding the ball on a slide, spinning and firing to first for the out. The southpaw made the play look easy; it was anything but.

Center fielder Taylor Trammell made a fine play in his own right to end the game, activating his afterburners and making a sliding catch to chase down a shallow fly ball. Once Trammell had the ball secured, he grinned and stuck out his tongue. For all of Trammell’s theatrics, he thought his starter’s defensive highlight reigned supreme.

“I talked to Yusei when we got into the locker room,” Trammell said. “I pretty much just told him, ‘Hey, I tried to be like you right there.’ He made a better play than me today.”

Trammell was also almost on the other side of a great bit of glove work. The rookie provided the game’s lone run via a home run that barely cleared the fence. Right fielder Chas McCormick leapt and got the tip of his glove on the ball, but was unable to reel it in.

“I thought it was a 50/50 ball,” Trammell said. “If anything, I thought it was going to hit the wall. I know I got it pretty decent off the bat. Then, when I saw McCormick go up, I was praying — I was like, ‘Look, dude, don’t do it to me right now.’”

On a day sullied by the loss of Gonzales, Trammell and the Mariners will gladly accept the lucky break.

With their ace sidelined, Seattle’s starters have a heavy burden to lift over the next handful of games. And Kikuchi set the tone. Now, it’s worth seeing where the rotation goes from here.


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