Kikuchi losing confidence, Gaussman tired… RYU is back just in time

There are signs of change in the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation, which has been relatively stable all season.

Toronto won 7-5 at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday at Rogers Centre. Riding a four-game winning streak, including three straight in the second half, Toronto improved to 53-41 and remained in third place in the American League East and second wild-card spot. They are six games back of the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays, but have a comfortable lead in the wild-card race, where the third-place finisher earns a playoff berth.

Toronto needs to solidify its rotation to build on the momentum it gained early in the second half.

But two variables have emerged. One is the health of ace Kevin Gausman. Gaussman was scheduled to start against Arizona on the 16th, but was cancelled after complaining of left lateral soreness before the game. He played catch at Rogers Centre a day later and appeared to be feeling better. However, he was ruled out of the three-game home series against the San Diego Padres from 19-21, meaning his first start of the second half will be on the road for a six-game set starting on the 22nd.

The analysis of Gausman’s injury is that it was caused by accumulated fatigue. He had thrown a lot. He pitched 115⅔ innings in 19 games in the first half. He was fourth in the AL and first on the team in innings pitched in the first half.

메이저사이트Toronto’s Kevin Gausman is delaying his first start of the second half due to side soreness. AP
The other variable is Yusei Kikuchi. He couldn’t shake the jitters that started in the first half in his first start of the second half. In 4⅔ innings, he gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits and three walks with two strikeouts. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. After Kikuchi walked Emmanuel Rivera on a full count with two outs in the top of the fifth with the score tied 2-2, manager John Schneider came out and handed him the ball.

It was a surprising pitching change, but Schneider felt he was ready to go after Kikuchi’s six- and seven-pitch sliders were fouled off and into the zone. It was a successful substitution, as Jay Jackson got Rueredes Gurriel Jr. to ground out to third base.

According to, Kikuchi had more walks than strikes in his first two innings of the day, and was unable to get his pitches to stay on the course that catcher Danny Jansen was asking for. Kikuchi has been the most consistent this season, including his time with the Seattle Mariners. At his current pace, he’s on pace to go over seven innings for the first time in the big leagues.

But in his last three starts, he had allowed 11 runs on 17 hits and five walks in a combined 14 innings. Schneider said, “I’ve been having some trouble adjusting my slider. “I’m a pitch count guy,” Schneider said, “and it’s all about how efficiently I use it going forward. I need to stick to my pitch count. Opponents line up mainly right-handed hitters against Kikuchi. We prepare our bullpen accordingly. He may have a hook like today. When he’s effective, he gets outs quickly and has good command of all his pitches. Then he can pitch late in the game.” The confidence is a little shaky.

Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi slides into home plate after being hit by a pitch to put runners on first and third base during the second inning against Arizona on Sunday. AFP
With two pitchers on the disabled list, Alec Manoa pitched well in his first game back, and veteran Hyun-jin Ryu is showing good “build-up” in his minor league rehabilitation appearances. Most notably, Ryu made his Triple-A debut on the 16th, throwing 66 pitches over five innings with five strikeouts, three hits, and one run. His fastball averaged 87.9 mph, very close to his pre-surgery 89.3 mph.

Ryu is expected to return later this month. One more Triple-A rehab start will set the exact date for his return. For now, the end of the month seems likely.

With the addition of Ryu, Toronto will have six starting pitchers. This is where the six-man rotation comes in. “If we have six healthy starters pitching well, we can go to a six-man rotation once or twice. That way we can give them a little more rest.”

Toronto will play 17 consecutive days without rest from 29 July to 14 August. That means they could run a six-man rotation during that stretch. This coincides with the return of Ryu Hyun-jin. But there’s no real reason to keep the six-man rotation after that. Eventually, one of the starters will have to move to the bullpen, and that could be Kikuchi, who has been showing signs of uneasiness lately.

Ryu will be back just when the team needs him.

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