Struggling Blue Jays starter Kikuchi roughed up by Orioles

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BALTIMORE — They pushed back some of the fences at Camden Yards this year, but not far enough for Yusei Kikuchi and the Blue Jays.

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The Orioles cleared the walls three times on him Monday, once in the wide left-center tundra that now measures 398 feet atop a mini green monster.

Those three outbursts against the inconsistent southpaw and another against reliever Trent Thornton led to an eventual 7-4 loss and undid some of the improvements Kikuchi has shown in his later starts.

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He did not win consecutively, although manager John Schneider did not drop Kikuchi as a starter, the same tact as his predecessor Charlie Montoyo.

“He works, he works, his work between (assignments) has been very good,” Schneider said. “In the first inning, a three-run homer puts you in a hole, but he’s going to keep having chances and hopefully stringing some together.”

Kikuchi (4-6) scorched Ramon Urias in the first, an inning that included two walks, but even back-to-back dingers from Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle didn’t deter him from returning to fan three Orioles at the end innings.

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But he knew the horse had come out of the stable.

“At first I really struggled with my timing, my rhythm,” he said through a Japanese interpreter. “But from the third round, I was able to calm down.”

Schneider, shy of the lefties on his staff, hung with Kikuchi until a first step in sixth, then he called on Thornton.

On a night with temperatures of 85 degrees on the first pitch, this duel opened 15 games between the Jays and the O’s by the end of the season, pitting the best joker in the American League East against an Orioles team which is a surprise competitor to squeeze to another location.

“It was what we wanted (from Kikuchi), except for a few throws,” Schneider said. “We like the progress he has made. You come at a certain time of the year and yes, you would like to win every game, but right now he is giving us a chance and he will continue to have chances. We were light in the bullpen and he got us all the way to sixth.

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VLAD NEWS

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s hitting streak continues to be a great accompaniment to any Jays game, win or lose.

After two fly balls left for outs, he drove one down the middle to make it 19 in a row, extending his career high and now the longest in the American League this season, beating Guardians’ Steven Kwan and JD Martinez from Boston. He also took third when Alejandro Kirk had a slow roll past second base, but Teoscar Hernandez doubled up.

The Jays left a few more on base after Cavan Biggio’s punch just over the right-field porch and didn’t threaten again until Matt Chapman took Baltimore starter Jordan Lyles deep.

Righty Dillon Tate had some effective bullpen stuff coming in the seventh against the top of the Toronto order, two strikeouts and strikeouts by Kirk and Hernandez, before Bo Bichette and Chapman reached him, leading to a Ramiel Tapia RBI single and Danny Jansen’s RBI sacrifice fly.

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Chapman hit Toronto’s other home run, his 22nd this season.

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Janssen has literally been overshadowed by the rugged Kirk this season, especially in the hitting department before Kirk’s numbers came down to earth this month.

But Jansen crafted back-to-back defensive gems in the second set, shooting speedster Jorge Mateo in the second and right after, tracking down Tyler Nevin’s bunt to drive him forward. Jansen fought on a walk that marked Lyles’ departure from the game after 103 pitches.

“Janno, that’s probably the best pitch I’ve seen him make all year,” Schneider said of Mateo’s cut.

Kirk, meanwhile, drove a few through the middle, before getting a single in the middle of a tough flat road trip.

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“Encouraging signs,” Schneider said. “The last two games he hits the ball hard and gets it off the ground.”

MAYZA MAY BE BACK SOON

There was news from sick bay on Monday, with Tim Mayza’s recovery from a dislocated shoulder now set at around three weeks to potentially rejoin the roster.

“We have to wait and see, the good thing is it was his non-throwing shoulder (which the southpaw damaged trying to field a bunt Saturday in Minnesota) so he could keep his arm up,” said Schneider. “We saw nothing more than the dislocation we came back into.”

Ross Stripling, on the 15-day IL with glute strain, threw in the bullpen on Sunday and the results were encouraging with live batting practice the next step or early rehab.

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STAR POWER

A euphoric Kevin Gausman bounced around the dugout before the game, named American League Player of the Week.

After his Sunday work at Minnesota, he went 14 scoreless innings, allowing seven hits and one walk. He also stoked 15.

Gausman became the ninth Jays pitcher to earn a POW nod and the first since Robbie Ray late last summer.

BIRD SEEDS

Whit Merrifield continued to shake things up with his wheels, coming in second ahead of a double play call and urging Schneider to kick off the review on a successful challenge… Chapman has six homers in his last 11 games… Behind after seven innings, Toronto is now 2-40 in that situation, despite having the tying run at the plate in the eighth.

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