Yusei Kikuchi can take a punch.
But can he throw a counter?
That’s what Scott Servais is waiting to find out. After producing four consecutive quality starts, Kikuchi — a 27-year-old rookie lefty — has been knocked around in the last two, surrendering 20 hits and 10 earned runs in just 6.2 total innings.
Servais was asked prior to Friday’s game whether Kikuchi may be due for a shortened start.
He took it one step further.
“I talked to Yusei today for a while,” Servais said. “We discussed a number of things — kind of where he’s at at this point in the season. We’ll make a decision on a shortened start, or if there’s going to be any start at all with him, probably tomorrow. We’ll have a final decision on that.
“I wanted to get his feelings on how he felt physically. He feels fine physically. He was a little frustrated. He got hit around in Oakland. He got hit around last night. When you get punched you’ve got to get up and punch back. That’s kind of where he’s at right now.”
When asked to clarify whether Kikuchi could miss his next start, Servais responded: “He could. He could. We’ve thrown that idea out there, too.”
The focus remains, of course, on Kikuchi’s long-term development. In 13 starts this season, the left-hander is 3-3 with a 4.43 earned-run average.
“We want to keep him healthy the whole year, not just physically but with what you go through mentally as a pitcher — with the ups and downs and learning from it and getting in a routine that works for him and all that stuff,” Servais said. “He’s done a lot of good things. He’s just gotten hit around a little bit the last couple times out and he needs to make a little adjustment.”
Following Kikuchi’s last shortened start — one inning of hitless work on April 26 — the Morioka, Japan, product responded by allowing just six earned runs in his next 26.2 innings.
Whether he pitches another inning or skips his next start altogether, Servais expects a similar response.
“It’s a totally different game (in major-league baseball),” Servais said. “The baseball’s different. The league’s different. There’s more power in this league. It’s a constant transition.
“Some things he’s handled easier than others. He’s a learner. He learns very quickly and he wants to be really good. So he’s going to be fine.”
Mariners recall Chasen Bradford
In the Mariners’ current three-game losing streak, Seattle’s starting pitchers have lasted just 14.2 total innings — with Marco Gonzalez, Wade LeBlanc and Yusei Kikuchi all failing to see the sixth. In that time, the not-so-intimidating trio surrendered an average of eight hits and five earned runs.
Inevitably, that Mariner mediocrity took a toll on the Seattle bullpen, forcing relievers to throw 14.2 innings — while allowing 15 hits and eight earned runs — in their last three games.
But a familiar right arm will return to T-Mobile Park on Friday.
Chasen Bradford has been recalled from Class AAA Tacoma, while fellow right-handed reliever David McKay was optioned after Thursday’s game.
“Chasen will give us a little help in the bullpen if we need it here tonight,” Servais said. “Chasen’s obviously … we know who he is and how he goes about it. So it’s good. We’ve been riding the bullpen hard here the last couple days, so we’ll have a fresh arm down there if we need it.”
In five games with Tacoma since being optioned May 10, the 29-year-old Bradford posted one save and allowed four earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched, recording a 6.75 ERA. Three of the aforementioned four runs, though, came in the same appearance May 19.
In 10 relief appearances with the Mariners this season, Bradford earned one save and allowed seven earned runs in 13.2 innings (4.61 ERA), while striking out 10 and walking three.
On Friday he rejoined a bullpen that may finally be finding its footing.
“I do feel better about our bullpen now than I did a few weeks ago,” Servais said. “I like the way a number of guys have thrown the ball. I like the addition of (Jesse) Biddle and (Anthony) Bass. I think they’re going to be nice pieces for us going forward. (Austin) Adams has been a great pickup. I like what he’s been able to bring. I thought (Brandon) Brennan threw the ball really well last night. He was getting after it. We saw some 96, 97 (mph) with the good sinker he’s got.
“I do like the way our bullpen pieces are starting to come together a little bit.”
McKay, 24, appeared in five games — allowing just one earned run in five innings — since being recalled from Tacoma on May 19. He most recently surrendered two runs (one earned) in one inning in Thursday’s loss to the Angels.
Alaniz claimed by Cincinnati
Ruben Alaniz is now officially a Cincinnati Red.
The 27-year-old reliever was claimed off of waivers by the Reds on Friday after previously making four relief appearances with the Mariners this season. He allowed nine earned runs in four innings pitched (20.25 ERA) with Seattle before being optioned to Tacoma on April 21. In 10 appearances with the Rainiers, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander was 2-1 with two saves and a 6.39 ERA.
A McAllen. Texas, native, Alaniz has spent parts of 10 minor-league seasons with the Astros, Tigers, Rays and Mariners. Seattle’s 40-man roster now stands at 39 players.