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1:07 PM PT2:07 PM MT3:07 PM CT4:07 PM ET16:07 ET20:07 GMT4:07 1:07 PM MST3:07 PM EST3:37 PM VEN0:07 UAE (+1)3:07 PM CT, July 14, 2019
Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Anaheim, California  Attendance: 38,560

Kikuchi looks to recapture early magic vs. Angels

Yusei Kikuchi will start on the mound Sunday for the Seattle Mariners against the Los Angeles Angels, and upon a closer look, one can't help but reflect on the journey of another pitcher who came to the major leagues from Japan.

Nearly 25 years ago, Hideo Nomo jumped from Japan to the majors, joining the Los Angeles Dodgers amid international fanfare. Surely, Nomo felt pressure to prove a Japanese player could hold his own in the majors, and Nomo succeeded greatly.

Kikuchi, who signed with Seattle as a free agent during the offseason, has not faced nearly the same pressure or fanfare since coming to the majors as many other Japanese players have since followed Nomo to find success in the majors. But there are a number of striking similarities between Kikuchi and Nomo.

Nomo was 26 when he joined the Dodgers in 1995; Kikuchi was 27, and recently turned 28. Nomo spent five seasons in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, going 78-46 with a 3.15 ERA in 139 games; Kikuchi was 73-46 with a 2.77 ERA in 158 games over eight seasons in the NPB.

Kikuchi also found himself thrown into the fire almost immediately. He started the Mariners' second game of the year, part of the two-game series against the Oakland A's that was played in Japan.

Kikuchi got a no-decision in that one, but the Mariners won the game and Kikuchi pitched well enough, giving up two runs (one earned) and four hits in 4 2/3 innings. His first major league win came a month later on April 20, in his sixth major league start, against the Angels.

Overall, Kikuchi got off to a good start, going 3-1 with a 3.43 ERA in his first 11 starts, but he's struggled as major league hitters have gotten more opportunities to see him pitch. In 19 starts this year, he is 4-6 with a 4.94 ERA.

"I feel like I got off to a really good start and kind of hit a bumpy road," he said through an interpreter. "There were a bunch of learning points during that time. Now I'm back where I want to be. I got to experience the ups and downs of a season in the first half and that's going to help me grow in my career."

He's faced the Angels three times this season, going 1-2 with a 12.34 ERA. In all, Angels hitters have crushed Kikuchi, hitting .475 (29-for-61) with home runs by Kole Calhoun, Tommy La Stella, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

Trout homered in the first two games of the series and has hit eight in his past seven games, reaching 30 for the season in 93 team games, a club record.

The Angels' starter Sunday, Jose Suarez, made his major league debut on June 2 against the Mariners and earned the victory, giving up three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. He faced the Mariners again in his second start but lost that one, giving up two runs and four hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Overall, Suarez is 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in six starts, getting an opportunity the club didn't necessarily think it would have for him so quickly. But the death of Tyler Skaggs and injuries throughout the season to Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Andrew Heaney and JC Ramirez have forced the club to test its depth. Suarez, though, has been a pleasant addition.

"I'm impressed with his confidence," catcher Kevan Smith told reporters. "I'm impressed with all the young guys, (second baseman Luis) Rengifo, (pitcher Griffin) Canning, Suarez. They act like they've been up here for a few years. It's awesome. It's comforting. ... They go out and trust their stuff and compete. That's all you can ask."

--Field Level Media

Updated July 14, 2019

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