Waiting may end for Ohtani-Kikuchi matchup

Waiting may end for Ohtani-Kikuchi matchup

Brad Ausmus knows his approval rating in Japan isn't at its peak.

The Los Angeles Angels manager didn't start designated hitter Shohei Ohtani on May 30 in Seattle when Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi was on the mound.

That prevented the first major league matchup between the Japanese stars, who went to the same high school. Anticipation was so high that nearly 70 foreign media members were credentialed for the game at T-Mobile Park, and it was televised live in Japan at 10 a.m.

"Japanese baseball fans don't like me right now," Ausmus said after that May 30 game. "Tell them I'm sorry. I'll make it up to them."

Ausmus will get his chance Saturday when the Angels play host to the Mariners. The manager told reporters Thursday that Ohtani is likely to play.

With the Mariners starting three left-handers in last week's four-game series, Ausmus said he wanted to give Ohtani a day off against one of them.

"Looking at some numbers," Ausmus said, "I thought it was a good day (to rest Ohtani.)"

Ohtani faced Kikuchi five times in Nippon Professional Baseball, going 2-for-5 with a double. Kikuchi struck him out three times.

Ausmus said he didn't worry about the international interest when filling out his lineup card.

"I was aware of it, but it didn't influence the decision, obviously," Ausmus said. "There's a very good chance that they'll face each other at some point, so I wasn't overly concerned about that."

Masa Niwa, a Seattle-based writer for Sankei Sports, told The Los Angeles Times that "on a scale of one to 10, the disappointment is an eight or nine."

"I feel like I am letting them down," Ausmus said of the Japanese fans. "But that's not my job."

The Mariners, who planned to use Kikuchi as an opener for an abbreviated start every month or so in order to keep him healthy in his first season in the majors, skipped his last start entirely.

That came after Kikuchi (3-3, 4.33 ERA) allowed 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings of each of his previous two starts, including that 9-3 defeat to the Angels.

"We're going to give him a little breather," Mariners manager Scott Servais said last week when announcing Kikuchi would skip a start. "Instead of the one-inning outing, we're going to let him catch his breath a little bit.

"The goal when we signed him was to get through the whole season and keep him strong throughout. He's learning a lot. He got hit a little bit. ... But when his stuff is right and he's locating the ball, he's really good. We've seen a lot more good than bad. He just had a couple rough outings. We'll give him a little break, and he'll be back in there."

Ausmus has yet to announce who will start for the Angels on Saturday, but MLB.com listed left-hander Dillon Peters as the likely starter. Peters is 2-1 with a 5.26 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Salt Lake and would have to be added to the active roster.

Peters, however, was in the Angels' clubhouse on Friday, according to the Times, which also reported that Ausmus indicated that Peters would pitch at some point Saturday, but he didn't narrow down the role.

The Mariners, who won the opener of the three-game series Friday night 6-2 behind two solo home runs from Domingo Santana and a three-run shot by Tom Murphy, will be without outfielder Mitch Haniger, placed on the 10-day injured list Friday with a ruptured testicle. Haniger suffered the injury Thursday when he fouled a pitch off his groin area.

--Field Level Media
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