That’s how long it’s been since Yusei Kikuchi has allowed more than a single run in a start.
And now, in his third season with the Mariners, Seattle’s ace of the rotation has been named an All-Star.
“(I’m) extremely happy,” Kikuchi told reporters Sunday through his interpreter. “Just very happy to hear this news. More importantly, I just feel really thankful for my teammates, coaches, just everyone being there for me ... always supporting me through the ups and downs.”
He’s scheduled to throw again Wednesday against the Yankees, but when the Mariners complete their homestand Sunday, Kikuchi heads to Denver to partake in All-Star festivities.
Before last Sunday’s game, the Mariners met in the clubhouse for a team meeting that focused on the All-Star Break. Manager Scott Servais, in his words, explained the parameters for those leaving town to head home.
Then, Servais broke the All-Star news to Kikuchi. He put his head down, and stood up to address the team soon after.
“As (Kikuchi) said to the group, ‘I’ve had my struggles here for a couple years, but you guys have helped me along the way,’” Servais said. “I thought it was meaningful to everybody in the room.”
Kikuchi becomes the 14th Japanese player to be selected for an All-Star Game, and just the fifth Mariner (Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, and Hisashi Iwakuma). He’s never pitched in Coors Field, but he’ll get the chance July 13 against the National League’s best hitters.
“I think everyone was happy for me as well,” Kikuchi said. “Just really excited. I just feel, again, really thankful.”
And Kikuchi has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his three seasons in Seattle, despite turbulence along the way. During his rookie season — one in which he sported a 5.46 earned run average across 32 appearances — Kikuchi dominated Toronto in the Rogers Centre on Aug. 18 in what would wind up as a 2-hit, complete-game shutout.
His ERA dropped slightly throughout 2020 to 5.17, though he made just nine starts during the pandemic-shortened season. His velocity increased, but he still didn’t have the command he wanted.
That has changed. The command is there. Calling 2021 a breakout season would be an understatement.
Kikuchi dropped his ERA into the low threes; 3.18, to be exact. His strikeout rate is up, and his walk rate is down. Batters are hitting just .195 against him. They’re slugging just .353.
“When I first came over here, I knew… I was going to face … (the) highest competition in baseball,” Kikuchi said. “I was able to overcome (struggles), and it’s just an honor to be able to be selected and participate in this All-Star game. And it’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of the Japanese players who have been selected in prior years as well.”
Upon return from injury on June 12 — he was hit on the knee by a comebacker seven days earlier in Anaheim — Kikuchi has the best ERA in baseball at 1.01.
The newly-named All-Star has shown a level of excitement on the mound unseen in previous years. After a strikeout, he allows an occasional fist pump. He’ll roar with excitement. He may even jump off the mound as opposed to the enervated trot other pitchers display.
“Yusei is always trying to get better,” Servais said. “He’s comfortable, he’s got a ton of confidence, he knows he’s a part of our ball club going forward, and it’s been great to see.”