Yusei Kikuchi didn’t pitch like an All-Star in his return to the mound after an eventful week.
The Angels bashed the Mariner lefty, tallying seven extra-base hits and seven runs off Kikuchi in five innings, and defeated Seattle 9-4 on Saturday night at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
“They were on Yusei really the whole night’s outing,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “He just didn’t just have quite the fastball life that he normally has. They had a good plan against him, they were on the fastball down in the zone and they did some damage against him tonight.
Kikuchi had experienced a lot in the nine days between his last start July 7 and Saturday night.
He was placed on the COVID-19 injured list Sunday after experiencing a coronavirus symptom, was taken off the list the next day after a second negative test, was cleared to play in Tuesday’s All-Star Game — he was the lone Mariner selected — and then pulled out.
Kikuchi got into trouble in the second inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, he walked Jack Mayfield, who was hitting .133.
That was a costly walk as it brought up a player who has been killing the M’s — David Fletcher. He doubled in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 26 games, but that came with no one on base.
This time Fletcher’s double — to the left-center gap — was very costly, clearing the bases and staking the Angels to a 3-0 lead. Just more of the same from the pesky second baseman, who was 3 for 5 Saturday and in his last seven games against the Mariners is hitting .581 (18 for 31) with two homers and 11 runs batted in.
Kikuchi allowed a pair of two-out doubles in the third inning that scored another Angels run, then Mayfield hit a solo homer off the Mariners starter in the fourth inning to make it 5-0.
Meanwhile, Angels starter Alex Cobb, who allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings, was cruising until the fifth inning. That is when he allowed a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with one out.
Mitch Haniger hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field for a run. Seager walked to reload the bases and Ty France hit a rocket to third base that Mayfield snared before throwing to second for the third out.
Sure, the Mariners scored a run but scoring just one was a net positive for the Angels.
“I thought that was the key inning,” Servais said. “We have the bases loaded and Haniger smokes the first pitch, right at the right fielder. … Then Ty France smokes a ball that Jack Mayfield makes a really nice play on at third. In those spots many times this year, we’ve gotten the big hit to get us back in the game. We had really good at-bats, but sometimes you can’t control it. They made plays and it was just not our night.”
The Angels continued the onslaught in the fifth inning against Kikuchi, with Taylor Ward hitting a two-run homer to center field to make it 7-1.
That was the knockout punch when it came to the Mariners’ chances of reaching seven games above .500 for the first time this season.
Kikuchi said through an interpreter that he felt his fastball velocity was down. He said he doesn’t believe it’s mechanics, and “it may be fatigue going into the summer months.”
“One of my main focuses is to get the velocity back up on my fastball,” he said.
It was the second straight subpar start for Kikuchi, who allowed five runs in five innings in a 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees in that July 7 game.
While that might seem like reason for concern, Servais said he wasn’t worried.
“It’s not what we’re used to seeing from Yusei, and he was so good in the first half,” Servais said. “He’ll get back there. I have no problem with that and I feel very confident in that, but tonight he struggled.”
Despite the loss, the Mariners can still win the series and get to six games over .500 for the third time with a win Sunday.
The Mariners can also take solace that they kept battling until the end. Haniger hit a three-run homer with one out in the ninth and after Seager followed with a walk, Angels manager Joe Maddon felt the need to bring in closer Raisel Iglesias.
France greeted Iglesias with a single, but Luis Torrens and Jarred Kelenic struck out to end the game.
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