Baseball: Reinvigorated Kikuchi fans 9 in Blue Jays' win over Rays

Yusei Kikuchi sparked the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-2 win over the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, striking out nine and allowing a single run over six innings of four-hit baseball.

Making his first home start of 2023 at a sold-out Rogers Centre, the resurgent left-hander stayed on the attack against a formidable Tampa Bay lineup that arrived in Toronto with a 13-0 record before going 0-2 against the Jays.

Kikuchi (2-0) issued one walk and surrendered his only run on a fourth-inning solo home run by Taylor Walls. He threw an array of pitches to keep the Rays batters off balance, mixing up a 153-kilometer-per-hour fastball with his slider and changeup.

"I was able to challenge hitters in the zone with all my pitches," Kikuchi said. "I think the results were good, but when I also consider the way I got them, it was a confidence-boosting game, and I even ended my outing with three quick outs in the sixth."

Kikuchi's assured start to the season is in contrast to his difficult 2022, when he struggled to make quality starts and eventually went 6-7 with a 5.19 ERA and became a puzzle for the Jays' management.

"He's got a different way about him this year than he has in the past," Toronto manager John Schneider told MLB.com. "A confident pitcher is a dangerous thing. That's what he is right now."

At Oakland Coliseum, Shintaro Fujinami (0-3) took his third loss in as many starts for the Oakland Athletics, who went down 3-2 to the New York Mets. The Japanese right-hander took a 2-1 lead into the seventh, when he surrendered a leadoff homer and a walk before leaving the mound.

At Fenway Park, Shohei Ohtani went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored as the Los Angeles Angels' designated hitter in a 9-7 loss to a Boston Red Sox lineup still missing Masataka Yoshida. Ohtani extended his on-base streak to 36 consecutive games.

Chicago Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki went 1-for-4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who walked off with a 2-1 win.

All players in the American and National leagues wore No. 42 on Saturday to honor Jackie Robinson, who became the first African American to play in MLB on the same day in 1947, 60 years after North America's major and minor leagues banned black players.

© Kyodo News