Sports: Blue Jays manager Schneider gives Kikuchi vote of confidence as fan outrage grows

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Toronto Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider gave a vote of confidence to Yusei Kikuchi on Monday following another rough outing for the left-handed starting pitcher.

Yusei Kikuchi's first season with the Blue Jays has been a disaster. (Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports) Yusei Kikuchi's first season with the Blue Jays has been a disaster. (Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)

Kikuchi struggled through five innings in Toronto's loss to the Baltimore Orioles, surrendering five earned runs on six hits (three homers) and three walks. The 31-year-old's ERA now stands at 5.13 for the season.

Despite the consistently poor performances, Schneider shot down any rumours of moving Kikuchi to the bullpen once Ross Stripling returns from injury.

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“[Kikuchi] is grinding... He’s going to keep getting chances and keep getting a chance to go out there, and hopefully string a few good ones together," Schneider said after the game, per Sportsnet's Hazel Mae. "Tonight was a couple of bad pitches, but he’s going to get his opportunities.”

The Blue Jays signed Kikuchi to a three-year, $36-million contract last offseason in what was viewed as a high-risk, high-reward move. The native of Japan has shown brief flashes of his potential, but too many of his starts have simply been non-competitive. He's logged four innings or fewer in nine of his 19 appearances, which puts extra strain on the relief corps.

Unlike Schneider, Blue Jays fans are ready to see Kikuchi moved out of the starting rotation, and are putting some of the blame on the front office for signing him in the first place, then not acquiring a proven starting pitcher at the trade deadline.

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Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans, there aren't many internal options who would be able to step in and replace Kikuchi. Mitch White was brought in at the trade deadline and would be the leading contender, but that would leave Toronto without a bulk reliever in the bullpen. Max Castillo was traded in the deal that brought Whit Merrifield to the Blue Jays, so the options at triple-A are names like Thomas Hatch and Casey Lawrence, who have both struggled when given chances at the MLB level this season.

Toronto currently holds the American League's top wild-card spot, with FanGraphs giving the club a 94.9 percent chance of making the postseason. Barring injury or a sudden spike in performance, Kikuchi won't figure into the Blue Jays' playoff rotation. But for now, fans should get used to seeing him take the mound every five days, like it or not.

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