Japanese stars Kikuchi and Tanaka set to face for first time

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              New York Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka, of Japan, smiles in the dugout during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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SEATTLE (AP) — Yusei Kikuchi made a point of watching Masahiro Tanaka growing up in Japan, whether he was pitching in his home country or once Tanaka got to the majors with the New York Yankees.

It’s understandable that Kikuchi is more than a little excited about the prospect of pitching against Tanaka on Tuesday night when the Seattle Mariners host the Yankees.

“First and foremost when (manager Scott Servais) told me I was facing the Yankees, I was very pumped to face a team like this,” Kikuchi said through an interpreter Monday. “Also on top of that, it’s Mr. Tanaka on the other side. It’s going to be a very special game and moment for me.”

It will be the first meeting on the mound between the Japanese stars. Tanaka is the established veteran and two-time All-Star on his way to pitching in the postseason for the fourth time in his career. Kikuchi is still making the adjustment to the majors in his first year in Seattle, a season filled with ups and downs.

Kikuchi (5-8, 5.19 ERA) is coming into the matchup on a high after throwing a two-hitter against Toronto in his last start on Aug. 18.

“He’s a guy that came to the states before me and put up a lot of good numbers so he’s a role model to look up to,” Kikuchi said. “To everyone back home, I want to show him a really good matchup and go out there and compete for my team and show the fans what we are made of.”

Tanaka has been in enough big moments in the majors that while he acknowledged the significance of Tuesday, it was also in the context of New York being in the middle of a pennant race and Seattle in the midst of a rebuild. Tanaka (9-7, 4.68) has won two of his past three decisions but lost in his last start against Oakland.

“I’m not sure how the magnitude of it is. I think it might be different from say; I think it’s all different,” Tanaka said. “But say I’m going against (Yu) Darvish, if I’m going against (Kenta) Maeda or if I’m going against Kikuchi. It’s kind of hard to say because I think it’s perceived a little bit differently against who I’m pitching against.”