Angels' Ohtani expected to face M's lefty Kikuchi

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The highly anticipated showdown between Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani is expected to finally take place Saturday, in the middle of a three-game series between the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels.

Ohtani was still on his way back from Tommy John surgery when Kikuchi first faced the Angels on April 20 and was out of the starting lineup when he was on the mound again on May 30. But Angels manager Brad Ausmus strongly hinted that Ohtani, who usually takes his days off against left-handed pitchers like Kikuchi, would start this next one, barring the unexpected.

"He probably will, unless something happens between now and then," Ausmus said.

Ohtani, 24, and Kikuchi, 27, attended the same Japanese high school but missed each other by a year.

Kikuchi has given up 11 runs (10 earned) in 6 innings over his past two starts, but Ohtani is seemingly starting to heat up. He homered in back-to-back games entering Thursday's contest against the Oakland Athletics and sported a .300/.389/.608 slash line during his previous 36 plate appearances.

Ohtani's slugging percentage had dipped to .625 before that stretch, during a series in Oakland, but then Ausmus saw "a noticeable difference in his batting practices."

"The ball started coming off his bat a little better, traveling farther," Ausmus said, though he couldn't pinpoint the reason. "It seems to have translated now on the field."
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