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2:35 AM PT3:35 AM MT4:35 AM CT5:35 AM ET5:35 ET9:35 GMT17:35 2:35 AM MST4:35 AM EST5:05 AM VEN13:35 UAE3:35 AM CT, March 21, 2019
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo,   Attendance: 46,451

Mariners' Kikuchi excited for MLB debut in home country

TOKYO -- What will possibly be one Japanese legend's final major-league appearance comes on the same day that another potential star from the baseball-crazed island nation makes his debut.

That's Yusei Kikuchi, who will make his first start for the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, facing the Oakland Athletics in the second game of the 2019 Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome in Japan.

"I never dreamt of starting my career in Japan," Kikuchi, 27, said through an interpreter. "This will be the experience of a lifetime for me. I'd like to enjoy it fully."

He started his pro career in Japan in June 2011. He was 73-46 in his eight seasons in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, winning its Pacific League ERA title in 2017. He ended his career in Japan with a 2.77 ERA in 1,010? innings.

In January, Kikuchi signed a four-year deal that guarantees him $56 million contract with the Mariners. The team also paid a $10.275 million posting fee and an option that can extend the deal to seven years and $109 million.

It's considerably more than for the pitcher on the other side, Marco Estrada, who is making his Athletics debut after signing a one-year, $4 million pact that adds depth to a rotation ravaged by injuries.

Estrada joined Oakland after a four-year stint with the Toronto Blue Jays, though he had a difficult go of things last season with a 5.64 ERA in only 143 2/3 innings and the worst strikeout rate of his career at 6.5 per nine innings.

On Wednesday, righty Mike Fiers didn't invoke much confidence in Oakland's new-look rotation, lasting only three innings and exiting after being bombarded for five runs in the third. He took the loss.

Oakland's lineup won't fail to inspire confidence in any of their starters. Three Athletics homered while Matt Chapman added a double to go with his three-run blast in first game of the series on Wednesday. The A's fell behind 9-4 and whittled away at the lead with three runs in the seventh inning but couldn't muster any more runs.

"It's good to see the offense come and just play the kind of game we are used to playing, where sometimes we're a little behind but we just keep chipping away," Chapman said to "I think we have a lot to take away from this game, especially early in the season. First game there's always those jitters, but I thought we settled in well and I like where we're at."

Kikuchi is still familiarizing himself with Major League Baaseball norms of approaching the strike zone, adjusting to hitters and even preparing. He spent the past week watching Oakland's dangerous lineup -- which had five players with at least 30 doubles last season -- at work during Tokyo Dome exhibition games against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. He analyzed the data and studied their trends.

"I'm sure they have great hitters, but the first thing (is) to throw my pitches. Whatever I feel during the game I will address that," Kikuchi said.

Dealing with the crowd likely isn't one of the adjustments he'll be dealing with. It will be very pro-Kikuchi, including several members of his personal circle from family, friends, former teachers, coaches and even former teammates.

"It's a big day for me," Kikuchi said. " ... I am going to play in the major leagues. This is going to be a wonderful start for me to show to my loved ones."

--By Sean Kramer, Field Level Media

Updated March 20, 2019

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