In his first year in the MLB, Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi is off to a strong start, averaging just over 5 innings pitched per start in nine appearances with a 2-1 record and a 3.54 ERA. Not CY Young numbers, but for the 27-year-old making the jump from Japan to the show, it's been a good first month.
On Wednesday night in the Bronx though, he looked like a Cy Young candidate, pitching five innings of no-hit, shutout ball before the New York Yankees finally scored a run on two hits in the bottom of the sixth. Kikuchi wound up going 7.2 innings, striking out three batters, giving up just one run on three hits and walking only one. It was his longest and best outing of the season.
Throughout the night, Kikuchi continued to rub the brim of his cap. We're talking no less than 500 times, which is not uncommon for pitchers or any baseball player to do. They all have their quirks, it's just that Kikuchi would not freaking stop doing it. Here's a compilation from Wednesday night:
Full disclosure: Jomboy (a must-follow on Twitter for all baseball fans) is a dedicated Yankees podcaster, Twitterer, fan in general, etc. I am also a Yankees fan, but none of that disproves the fact that Kikuchi is addicted to rubbing the brim of his hat. Others watching took notice, and it appeared as though Kikuchi took the entire tub of pine tar and dumped in on the brim of his cap:
There may be no pine tar left on earth. Kikuchi took it all.
This is not sour grapes, because literally every pitcher on the planet has used the sticky substance at some point. Former Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda got caught red-handed / neck-handed with it a few years ago. The Red Sox pitching staff has been bathing in the stuff for years. It's the worst-kept secret in the sport, and if you ain't using it, you ain't trying. But anytime it's as blatant as it was last night, people will take notice.
To the Yankees credit, they downplayed it after the game. First baseman Luke Voit told NJ.com that “A lot of guys use stuff. It’s frustrating obviously because maybe then his curveball wouldn’t have been as good. He might have made more mistakes with his fastball. But at the end of the day he had a no-hitter into the sixth inning.”
Outfielder Cameron Maybin went as far as saying that it really doesn't matter. “I could care less. Nobody noticed it, nobody said anything. We’ve got a lot bigger worries, trying to manufacture runs, trying to get on base, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it.”
All good points. Kikuchi might just want to be a little more discreet about it in his next start.