MLB

Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi prep for Japan

PEORIA, Ariz. — Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi — who’ll start Seattle’s two games against the A’s in Japan next week — got their final work in Wednesday before the Mariners break camp Thursday and fly to the far side of the world to open their season.
Gonzales threw 2

PEORIA, Ariz. — Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi — who’ll start Seattle’s two games against the A’s in Japan next week — got their final work in Wednesday before the Mariners break camp Thursday and fly to the far side of the world to open their season.

Gonzales threw 2 2/3 innings in Wednesday night’s 8-4 Cactus League victory over the Giants in his final outing before he makes the Opening Day start next Wednesday, allowing four runs on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts.

It wasn’t the perfect sendoff to Japan, but Gonzales still is zeroing in on his timing and professed no concerns. He’s a pitcher who walked just 32 batters in 166 2/3 innings last year and command is normally not an issue.

“It’s good to get it out now,” he said. “These cold, dry nights, I’m ready to get out of here. It’s one of those things where small timing things get me behind in the count and then I’m fighting to get back. That puts me in a tough spot to work on things. Digging myself a hole didn’t help tonight, but certainly these are things that will right themselves as we get going here.”

Gonzales will open the season against A’s right-hander Mike Fiers next Wednesday at 2:35 a.m. PT and Kikuchi will make his Major League debut the following day, ironically back in Japan where he pitched the past eight years for the Seibu Lions.

After having Tuesday’s Cactus League start canceled by rain, Kikuchi threw five innings in an afternoon intrasquad game on one of the Mariners’ practice fields at their Peoria complex and looked very sharp considering the 20-30 mph winds whipping through the facility.

“The wind was crazy today,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak. “I think it was good practice for me to adjust with conditions like this. I obviously want to play in better conditions out here, but I was able to grind through it.”

Kikuchi has pitched twice at the Tokyo Dome during his Japanese pro career and knows he’ll need to be on his game against the A’s.

“First of all, I’m really excited to go back home and pitch,” he said. “But even in Japan, the Tokyo Dome is known to be a very small stadium. So I want to be fine with my pitches and I want to make sure I’m focused in on every pitch and try to get as many ground balls as I can.”

When Kikuchi’s Seibu Lions were knocked out of the playoffs last October, he thought he’d pitched his last game in his homeland, knowing he was ready to give Major League Baseball a shot. Little did he know he’d wind up pitching his first MLB game back in Tokyo.

“When we lost in the postseason, I didn’t think I was going to pitch in Japan ever again,” he said. “So I’m very excited for this opportunity that came up and I’m going to use this last week to get as ready as I can. I’m super excited for the opportunity.”

That opportunity require some patience now, however, as it’ll be eight days before Kikuchi pitches in Tokyo.

“It’s very clunky. It’s something our guys will have to deal with,” manager Scott Servais said of the schedule. “He’ll throw extra bullpen sessions to try to stay sharp there. It’s not easy. We just don’t play many games. We have a lot of travel and down time. But I think it’ll be fine.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

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