New Seattle Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi said Monday he is "really looking forward" to making his debut on the major league stage he has dreamed of since his hard-throwing days in high school.
Kikuchi officially reported to his first major league spring training camp on Monday, along with 40 other Mariners' pitchers and catchers. Japan's top left-handed starter is set to take the field with his new teammates when their first workouts begin Tuesday.
The 27-year-old had already been at the team's spring training facility outside Phoenix, Arizona for a week, and threw two crowd-drawing bullpen sessions off the mound over the weekend.
"Camp is later (compared to Japan), and there are a lot of things you have to do on your own," Kikuchi said. "I've been able to manage my time well."
Kikuchi, who signed a four-year deal with the Mariners after being posted by the Seibu Lions, has longed to play in the majors since his time at Iwate Prefecture's Hanamaki Higashi high school, which Los Angeles Angels Rookie of the Year Shohei Ohtani later attended.
Touted as one of MLB's most anticipated newcomers, Kikuchi will likely be a fixture in the Mariners' rotation this season, provided he can adapt to life on and off the field in the United States.
While it may take time to get used to harder mounds and more slippery balls than he is used to in Nippon Professional Baseball, Kikuchi appeared to have little problem adjusting to American food.
"I'm not very picky," he said. "I ate rice for the first time today. I haven't felt like I'm starting to miss rice or Japanese food yet."
Like Kikuchi, who earned a 73-46 record with a 2.77 ERA over his career in Japan, the majority of the Mariners' bullpen was added in the offseason. Only 12 pitchers and two catchers were in the American League team's camp last season, according to MLB.com.
"There's a lot that I'm really looking forward to seeing," manager Scott Servais said according to MLB.com. "The amount of talent we have acquired here in this short time is unbelievable."
"I know it's not the household names, believe me, but by the middle of May, you'll have plenty to root for."
Seattle pitching coach Paul Davis said he was impressed with Kikuchi's throwing prowess, and commended the left hander's drive to succeed in the world's premier baseball league.
"He's an interesting guy. Very impressive so far," Davis said. "He's got a premium fastball, especially as a left-hander. It looks like a swing-and-miss fastball. His slider is clearly a swing-and-miss pitch."
"He spins the ball well. And his personality, it seems like he wants to be great. I'm really looking forward to working with him and trying to help him."
Kikuchi will be joined by veteran outfielder Ichiro Suzuki when position players report to camp on Friday. Suzuki received a non-roster invitation to the club's spring training camp after signing a minor league deal with the team last month.
The 45-year-old Suzuki, in his 19th season with the Mariners, is expected to be on the active roster for an opening series against the Oakland Athletics on March 20-21 at Tokyo Dome. The team is allowed to expand their roster from 25 to 28 players for the two games in Japan.
Suzuki played 15 games with Seattle last season, going 9-for-44 for a .205 average. He transitioned into a front office role in May, though he continued to travel and work out with the team.
The Mariners have had a Japanese player on their roster every season for the past 21 years.