Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Lions ace Yusei Kikuchi to consider future as club gives green light to posting

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Seibu Lions lost to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Game 5 of the Pacific League Climax Series on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Dome.

The result brought an end to the Lions’ season — the Japan Series-bound Hawks won the series 4-2 — and possibly to Yusei Kikuchi’s career in Japan.

There are many who expect the Lions’ left-handed ace to head to MLB via the posting system this offseason. The Lions said Sunday they would accept if Kikuchi asks to be posted.

Following Sunday’s season-ending 6-5 loss, the 27-year old didn’t provide any clarity about his future or whether he was ready to move to the majors.

“Well, the season just ended,” Kikuchi said. “A lot of things happened this year and I want to thank the many people who supported me. Looking back on nine years, I can recall a lot of things that happened in that clubhouse.

“Regarding the future, it’s not all up to me. I haven’t had a chance to talk with the team.”

Kikuchi, who preceded Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani at Hanamaki Higashi High School in Iwate Prefecture, was drafted in 2009 and is 73-46, with a save, in eight NPB seasons.

Kikuchi has a 2.77 career ERA and 903 strikeouts in 1,010⅔ innings. He’s finished with at least 100 strikeouts in each of the past five seasons, including 217 in 2017.

Kikuchi said there were no plans as of yet to have a discussion with the Lions next week. He also said he will think about his future during the offseason.

He wasn’t ready to go there after Sunday’s loss.

“The season just ended,” Kikuchi said. “I’ll spend some time with my family. That’s all I’m thinking about.”

Kikuchi hoped to bring a title to Saitama this year, but fell short of that goal. He was 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA for the team this season. He started Game 1 and was charged with the loss during the final stage against SoftBank.

“We really were focused on this year,” Kikuchi said. “We can’t think about the future yet. I just really appreciate my coaches and teammates.”

Kikuchi isn’t the only Seibu pitcher pondering his future.

Veteran hurler Brian Wolfe is also uncertain about his status going forward.

“It’s more of an if I’m going to retire or not kind of thing,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe, who will turn 38 next month, has spent nine seasons in NPB with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the Hawks and the Lions, where he’s been for the past three seasons. Wolfe is 56-40 with a 3.43 ERA in Japan.

The Fullerton, California, native spent 2007-2009 in MLB with the Toronto Blue Jays.

“It’s still fresh,” Wolfe said after the game. “You don’t want to jump into it. You want to take some time when you get home, talk to the family.”