TORONTO – After spending about three weeks on the injured list, Yusei Kikuchi didn’t want to come off the field.
Kikuchi struck out five and gave up one run to earn the win as the Toronto Blue Jays held off the Detroit Tigers for a 5-3 win on Thursday. It was Kikuchi’s first start for the Blue Jays since July 5, spending time on the injured list with a strained neck.
After finishing the fifth inning with back-to-back strikeouts, Kikuchi asked interim Toronto manager John Schneider to stay in the game.
“He came in and he told me he was hungry for more, which is awesome,” Schneider said. “I told him outstanding job and use this as a springboard going forward.
“We’re going to need these kinds of outings from him going forward for us to get to where we want to go. So he was great about it.”
“The first thing I actually told Schneider was that ‘I’m starving, I want to keep going,’” said Kikuchi through translator Kevin Ando. “But I did understand that I was on a pitch count after not throwing for a while.
“Just overall, I’m really looking forward to my next step.”
Working with Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker has saved Kikuchi’s season. The 31-year-old lefty has been struggling with his command all year until Walker helped Kikuchi find his natural throwing motion during his stint on the IL.
“Pete came up to me and said ‘hey, look, whenever we do any sort of fielding work, you get it to first base or whichever base right on the money almost every time,’” Kikuchi said. “So what he was saying was that was basically my natural arm slot, maybe.
“So we put together a throwing program to get me in a more athletic position, just letting the natural arm slot work.”
Matt Chapman had a two-run homer and added a solo shot to lead Toronto’s (55-44) offence. Alejandro Kirk had an RBI single and added a double, going 2-for-3 for the Blue Jays, while Danny Jansen added a run with a sacrifice fly.
“All of us have had Kikuchi’s back the whole season and we’ve been in his corner,” Chapman said. “But I think for him to maybe step away for a little bit, regroup, come back and have an outing like this can set the tone for a strong finish for him.”
Adam Cimber, Tim Mayza, Yimi Garcia and Jordan Romano came out of Toronto’s bullpen. Mayza and Garcia each gave up a run but Romano got the final four outs of the game for his 23rd save of the year.
Willi Castro and Jonathan Schoop had one home run apiece for Detroit (40-60) with Eric Haase earning an RBI on a sacrifice fly.
Tyler Alexander (2-4) allowed three runs — two earned — on five hits and a walk over four innings. Will Vest, Angel De Jesus, Jose Cisnero and Alex Lange came on in relief for the Tigers.
Castro’s home run in the second gave Detroit an early 1-0 lead but Kirk replied for the Blue Jays in the third, with his hit dropping into centre field for a single. That gave George Springer enough time to score from second to tie the game. Springer had reached base on a throwing error by Detroit shortstop Javy Baez, making it an unearned run.
Chapman gave Toronto its first lead of the game in the fourth, with the 346-foot blast scoring Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to make it 3-1.
Two innings later Chapman struck again, hitting his second home run of the game and 18th of the year. He has 12 homers since the beginning of June.
“If I’m making consistent contact and finding the barrel I know that the power is going to be there,” Chapman said. “That’s something that I want to happen naturally as opposed to going out there and feeling like I have to drive the ball or try to do more when I should let it come to me.”
Schoop chipped away at Toronto’s lead with a homer in the seventh and then Haase reduced the Blue Jays’ lead to 4-3 with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Jansen gave the Blue Jays some breathing room in the bottom of that inning with his fly ball bringing home Gurriel Jr.
MAKE ROOM — Right-handed reliever Jeremy Beasley was optioned to the Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., ahead of Thursday’s game. The move made space on the Blue Jays’ roster for Kikuchi’s return from the injured list.
UP NEXT — Blue Jays all-star Alek Manoah (11-4) will take the mound on Friday as Toronto continues its four-game series against the Tigers. Bryan Garcia (0-0) will make his first start of the season for Detroit.