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The anticipated showdown between Seattle Mariners rookie starter Yusei Kikuchi and Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani will have to wait.
With Kikuchi scheduled to start Thursday night’s series opener against the Angels it seemed the two — who both attended Hanamaki Higashi High School and met five times during their professional careers in Japan — would finally face each other for the first time in the majors in Seattle.
But, Angels first-year manager Brad Ausmus elected to hold Ohtani, the club’s regular designated hitter, out of the starting lineup. Jonathan Lucroy instead was listed as the starting DH.
Ausmus said he considered some numbers the left-handed pitchers the Angels will face in Seattle have put up — they’ll see Kikuchi, Tommy Milone and Marco Gonzales during this trip — and decided to pull Ohtani for this first game.
He said he was aware of the hype created by situation, but it didn’t influence his lineup decision.
“There’s a very good chance they’ll end up facing each other at some point, so I wasn’t overly concerned about that,” Ausmus said.
While that disappointed fans and Japanese media members who made the trip to T-Mobile Park to witness the event, Ausmus said he thought Thursday’s game was the right game to sit Ohtani.
“I’m sure I am letting them down, but that’s not my job,” Ausmus said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais kept his focus on getting his team, stuck in a 2-8 slide in their past 10 games, back on track.
“Yusei’s faced him before, I know that,” Servais said. “I asked him about it I think back in spring training, and he knew exactly what had happened in those at-bats. Certainly there’s a long history and the two are connected, as they should be.
“They’re going to give guys days off. We give guys days off. I don’t think Yusei’s that concerned about it. He’s got to beat the Angels tonight.”
Ohtani, who was sought after by the Mariners before singing with the Angels in 2017, has played in 19 games this season since returning from Tommy John elbow surgery, and is slashing at .237/.322/.316. However, he is hitting just 3-for-21 (.143) with eight strikeouts against left-handed starters.
Kikuchi, meanwhile, has allowed just 11 hits to lefties this season. And Lucroy gives the Angels another right-handed bat in the lineup.
Still, the Ohtani-Kikuchi matchup would have been noteworthy. The last time a Japanese pitcher and batter faced each other at T-Mobile Park was in 2016, when former Mariners outfielder Nori Aoki went 1-for-3 with a double and strikeout against New York’s Masahiro Tanaka.
Ohtani and Kikuchi have met five times before, each time during their Nippon Professional Baseball years. Ohtani has logged a single and double off Kikuchi, but Kikuchi has struck him out three times.
Whenever the meeting does occur — the Angels and Mariners meet in three more series’ this season — it will be the second time in MLB history two Japanese players from the same high school have faced each other. Pittsburgh’s Masumi Kuwata forced Colorado’s Kazuo Matsui into a groundout in 2007 at PNC Park.
Seattle’s No. 2 prospect Jarred Kelenic, a 19-year-old outfielder who was acquired in the deal that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets, was promoted from low Class-A West Virginia to high Class-A Modesto this week.
He hit at a .303/.391./.564 clip in 49 games with West Virginia, including 10 homers, 13 doubles and three triples. He stole seven bases, walked 25 times, and struck out 45.
“We all anticipated he would do well,” Servais said. “Jared’s really driven to move up the ranks as quick as possible. He got off to a really slow start, and then he got it going, and did exactly what he needed to do. You move players when they show they’re dominating the league. He certainly had done that.
“He moves up to (the California League), which is good. Now you get a chance to play with some older players which helps not just competition-wise, but you’re playing with older guys on your team. You get a little bit better feel for what it’s going to be like as you move up. I think it’s great for him, it’s good for us organizationally. He’s a really good player.”
* Mariners closer Hunter Strickland (lat strain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen Sunday. Servais said Strickland will throw at least two bullpens and live BP before beginning a rehab assignment, likely with Triple-A Tacoma.
* Felix Hernandez (lat strain) will likely throw a bullpen Monday or Tuesday.
* Right-handed reliever Sam Tuivailala’s rehab assignment with Tacoma has ended, but is dealing with some shoulder tightness. He’s been out with an Achilles injury since August.
Servais said he has worked with the Mariners on getting his range of motion back. There is no pain in the shoulder, Servais said, but the ball is not jumping out of Tuivailala’s hand.
“We saw it coming out pretty good I think when he was still in Modesto,” Servais said. “The (velocity) was up in the 94-95 range, which is kind of where he’s at when he’s right. And he never really got there consistently. Certainly his last time out in Tacoma it wasn’t there.”
* Second baseman Dee Gordon (wrist) and infielder Ryon Healy (back) were both doing early field work Thursday, but whether they will be activated directly after their 10-day IL stays are up, or be sent on rehab assignments hasn’t been decided.
* Shortstop J.P. Crawford (ankle) continues to receive treatments to reduce swelling after severely turning his ankle Tuesday night against Texas. He is projected to miss “a couple weeks.”