OSAKA – New Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi left Japan on Sunday ahead of his first spring training in the major leagues, declaring his determination to earn and hold onto a spot in his team’s starting pitching rotation.
“At last it feels like I’m doing this,” Kikuchi told reporters at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. “I want to play with a sense of gratitude toward the many people in Japan who have supported me these past 27 years.”
Japan’s top left-handed starting pitcher, Kikuchi signed a three-year guaranteed contract with the Mariners on Jan. 2 after his Pacific League club, the Seibu Lions, agreed to post him last autumn.
Since he returned to Japan early last month, the 27-year-old has been working out on the island of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture.
“I’ve become pretty used to my new (major league) ball. I was able to make some good adjustments,” said Kikuchi, who a Feb. 1 article on MLB.com included — alongside compatriot Yu Darvish — among a list of candidates to win a Cy Young Award this year
“I feel it’s my responsibility to hold down a spot in the middle of the rotation this year. I want to quickly blend in with the Mariners and meet the expectations that I perform well.”