Major League Baseball

M’s set to skip Kikuchi’s turn vs. Astros

mlb14ASTROS (41-20) AT MARINERS (25-38)

The Seattle Mariners decided against an abbreviated start for left-hander Yusei Kikuchi against the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

Instead, they’ll skip his turn in the rotation entirely.

“Just recharge the batteries,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That’s all we’re doing.”

Part of the offseason sales pitch to get Kikuchi to sign with the Mariners included a plan to use him as an opener every fifth or sixth start in an effort to limit his innings and avoid the injuries that have befallen other Japanese stars such as Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani.

Kikuchi (3-3, 4.43 ERA) made an abbreviated start April 26 and followed that with four consecutive quality starts. However, he lasted just 3 1/3 innings in each of his past two starts, giving up 11 runs (10 earned) on 20 hits.

“The goal when we signed him was to get through the whole season and keep him strong throughout,” Servais said. “He’s learning a lot. He got hit a little bit. Oakland was on him pretty good (on May 25). Texas got on him pretty good (on Thursday). But when his stuff is right and he’s locating the ball, he’s really good.

“We’ve seen a lot more good than bad. He just had a couple rough outings. We’ll give him a little break, and he’ll be back in there.”

The Mariners had yet to announce who would start Tuesday as of late Monday night.

Left-hander Justus Sheffield, the organization’s top prospect who was called up to relieve Kikuchi on April 26, isn’t an option because he started Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma. Right-hander Erik Swanson, who started six games for Seattle earlier this season, went on Tacoma’s injured list Friday due to a hamstring ailment.

That seemingly would leave veteran Jonathon Niese or fellow left-hander Anthony Misiewicz, who both made scoreless starts in a Triple-A doubleheader Thursday. Niese (3-1, 4.68 ERA for Tacoma) tossed five innings while Misiewicz (3-3, 3.17 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A) lasted seven innings.

The Astros will start left-hander Wade Miley (5-3, 3.25 ERA), who pitched for the Mariners in 2016. Miley is 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA in four career starts against Seattle.

Miley struck out a season-high nine in his latest start, tossing seven innings of two-run ball Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs. However, he took a 2-1 defeat as the Astros closed a 6-4 homestand.

The Astros remain without injured outfielder George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa, a pair of All-Stars.

“We continue to play pretty good baseball,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said after Miley’s last start. “They’ve been struggling with some adversity. Our guys are staying upbeat, they’re staying positive, we’re playing with energy.”

The Astros won the series opener 4-2 in Seattle on Monday night. Robinson Chirinos homered in a three-run first inning, and left-hander Framber Valdez pitched four innings of scoreless relief for the victory.

Valdez’s performance was key after the Astros went 12 innings to win Sunday in Oakland.

“We needed him to do well, and he did,” Hinch said. “That was really, really strong innings to bridge to the end of the game. … We needed three or four innings from Framber, and not only does he give us that, but he gives us the quality to go with it.”

–Field Level Media

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