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Kikuchi melts down, Jays lose 5-4

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s getting to the point where Yusei Kikuchi needs to be removed from the rotation. He came into today sporting a 7.94 ERA over his past six starts, and somehow made that number worse even though not all his runs this afternoon were earned. I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing or just an inability to command his fastball at all, but something is badly broken.

On a lighter note, the offence wasn’t terrible considering that they were facing Corbin Burnes, who’s been the best starter in baseball by a fair margin over the past three seasons, and Max Castillo had a very promising second career appearance in mop up duty. Still, it’s hard to look for moral victories when the team is in a 3-6 skid and barely hanging onto the first wildcard (pending the outcome of the Red Sox game, as I write they’re down 2-0 to the Guardians in the sixth).

Corbin Burnes started out looking every bit as imposing as his 2.31 ERA, striking out the first two batters he faced and getting Vladimir Guerrero jr. to ground out. In the bottom half of the inning, unfortunately, Kikuchi even shakier than you’d expect from his 4.94. After a Christian Yelich ground out, he got into a a twelve pitch battle with Willy Adames that he ultimately lost by issuing a walk. His first pitch to Andrew McCutchen was so wild that it appeared to hit McCutchen in the back, but actually went off the barrel of his bat behind him. He managed to get McCutchen swinging, but then surrendered back to back singles to Luis Urías and Tyrone Taylor, driving Adames home to give the Brewers a 1-0 lead. Next, he actually did hit Mike Brosseau in the back to load the bases. The damage stopped there, as Victor Caratini stuck out swinging to end the inning, but it wasn’t a confidence inspiring start and took 40 pitches to get through.

The Jays at least made some contact in the second. Alejandro Kirk grounded out, Teoscar Hernández hit a fly ball to the track in right field, and Raimel Tapia lined it fairly hard but right at Yelich in left. The defence took over the shakinesss in the home half of the inning, with Bo Bichette making a bad throw on a Keston Hiura leadoff grounder that caught the lip of the grass and shot under Vlad’s glove, allowing Hiura to reach second. Kikuchi rallied briefly, striking out Jonathan Davis looking and Yelich swinging, but Hiura came in to score on an Adames line drive single and then McCutchen smashed a home run over the left field wall to move the Brewers’ lead to four. Urías lined a single to left-centre before Kikuchin finally stuck out Taylor to end the inning. This time it took him only 27 pitches to get through the inning.

Matt Chapman at least got the Jays on base in the third with a hard hit liner to centre for a single. Lourdes Gurriel jr. got hit on the forearm. He looked like he was in a lot of pain and stayed down for a while, but was ultimately able to take his base and stay in the game. They weren’t able to do anything with the baserunners, though. Burnes sandwiched a Biggio pop up between Moreno and Bichette Ks to get out of the jam. Milwaukee tacked onto its lead with a Brosseau solo shot to lead off their half of the inning, and Montoyo was finally forced to pull the ripcord. Trent Thornton was brought in and got a Caratini ground out while striking out Davis and Yelich, allowing only a ground ball single to Hiura.

Burnes kept on rolling in the top of the fourth, getting a Guerrero pop up and striking out Hernández and Tapia, with Kirk working a walk to become the only baserunner of the inning. Thornton matched him pitch for pitch in his half, walking Urías but striking out Adames and getting a fly out from McCutchen and a pop out from Taylor.

Chapman, who was the first Jay to reach in the third, was the first to score in the fifth, leading off with a towering drive over the left centre wall. Gurriel followed with a ball hit to the same place but about 50 feet shorter, which fell in for a double. He then moved to third on a Moreno fly out down the right field line and scored on a Biggo grounder to first to make it 5-2. Bichette grounded out to stop the rally there, but at least the Jays got on the board. Max Castillo took over the reins in the bottom of the inning and looked strong, sitting 95 with his fastball and striking out Hiura and Davis while conceding only a walk to Caratini.

Burnes reasserted himself in the sixth, walking Kirk for a second time but striking out Guerrero and getting Hernández to ground into a double play. Castillo was also firmly in control, striking out Yelich and Urías and getting a ground out from Adames and only issuing a walk to McCutchen.

The Jays went quietly in the seventh, with Tapia grounding out, Chapman flying out and Gurriel striking out. Castilo came back out for a third inning of work and remained strong, striking out Taylor and Caratini around a Brosseau ground out.

The offence was finally able to chase Burnes from the game with two outs in the eight. After getting Moreno to line out and striking out Biggio, he gave up a solo shot to dead centre to Bichette that brought the Jays within two, and then an infield single to Guerrero. Three runs on five hits and two walks against nine strikeouts over 7.2 isn’t a great offensive showing, but against a pitcher as good as Burnes it’s about as much as you’re likely to get. Milwaukee turned to Devin Willimans, who was able to strike out Kirk to prevent the Jays from getting any closer. Castillo at the eighth for the Jays and wrapped up a great second career outing with another strikeout of Hiura. He did concede a hit, on a seeing eye groundball by Yelich, but overall it was a great day of work, striking out seven against only one hit and two walks over four. He got the most strikes with his 94-96mph fastball, but was also able to get strikes swinging or looking with his change and slider.

Josh Hader came in to lock down the save for the Brewers. After Hernández and Espinal strikeouts, the Jays did manage to bring it within one. Chapman lined a double to the gap in left centre, and Gurriel brought him home on a soft liner just over the infield into right. Hader was able to get Moreno to chop it to first for the final out, though.

Jays of the Day: Nobody had the number, but I’m giving one to Chapman (0.080), because it’s not his fault that going 3-4 with a homer and a double wasn’t enough to move the needle, and to Castillo (0;068), because he was great even if it was mop up duty.

Suckage: Kikuchi (-0.294) is turning into an absolute black hole. Hernández (-0.125) also had the number.

The series wraps up tomorrow at 2:10pm ET. Jose Berrios, who looked to have found his form before blowing up last time out in Chicago, will look to bounce back against Chi Chi González and the Jays will look for their first series win since Detroit.