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Yusei Kikuchi looks to help Blue Jays complete sweep of Reds

May 4, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi (16) stretches between batters in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays will bid for their first series sweep of the season Sunday afternoon when they start left-hander Yusei Kikuchi against the visiting Cincinnati Reds.

The Blue Jays posted a 2-1 win in the series opener on Friday and a 3-1 victory the following day.

Kikuchi (2-1, 3.38 ERA) will face the Reds for the first time in his career. He will oppose right-hander Graham Ashcraft, who is scheduled to make his major-league debut. Right-hander Connor Overton was scratched from the start because of a sore back.

Kikuchi has improved after making adjustments suggested by pitching coach Pete Walker. After posting an 0-1 mark with a 5.52 ERA in four starts in April, he is 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA in three outings in May.

He said he uses his four-seam fastball with more confidence and has made an adjustment with his slider.

“About three weeks ago is when Pete and I first kind of had some deeper conversations, and that’s when he really pushed the usage of the fastball,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “To be honest with you, at times, I definitely didn’t have the most confidence in that pitch. But really building off each start recently, I definitely have more confidence in that pitch now.”

Kikuchi allowed one hit and three walks over six scoreless innings in a 6-2 win over the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

“Typically in the past I have been a little bit against doing that kind of stuff (during the season), but the way Pete came to me with getting rid of the hesitation at the top of my leg kick and a couple of other things — the way he said they weren’t looking for immediate results,” Kikuchi said.

“He really seemed to understand it wasn’t going to be an (overnight) change, and so that really meant a lot to me, and I feel like it’s a big reason why I was able to buy in immediately and be on the same page as Pete.”

Ashcraft, 24, was 3-1 with a 1.65 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Louisville this season.

Two young pitchers were in a pitching duel Saturday. Toronto right-hander Alek Manoah allowed one run and seven hits in eight innings.

Cincinnati right-hander Hunter Greene, who pitched 7 1/3 no-hit innings last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, did not allow a hit Saturday until Bo Bichette led off the fourth with the first of his two home runs for the day. Greene allowed one run in six innings.

Coming off a 118-pitch outing at Pittsburgh, Greene was lifted after throwing 84 pitches on Saturday.

“When guys have to work really hard in one start, it can happen pretty fast where they can hit a wall maybe in their next time out,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I said to (pitching coach Derek Johnson) at one point, let’s watch closely, because if it does happen, it could happen quickly. Taking (Greene) to the limit there before that actually happened really sets him up well for his next time out.”

“My biggest focus this season is really not numbers, but for me, it’s my development,” Greene said. “Obviously, up here, it’s all about winning. I understand that and take pride in that.”

Toronto second baseman Santiago Espinal was 1-for-4 to extend his career-best hitting streak to 14 games Saturday. He is 18-for-48 (.375) with four RBIs during that stretch.

–Field Level Media