It probably should have happened a few starts ago, but based on what he did in the second half of last season and what’s he’s done to start this season, it’s probably time to stop being surprised when Hisashi Iwakuma has a dominant outing.
After all, they are becoming pretty regular for the Mariners right-hander.
On Friday, Iwakuma gave Seattle another stellar outing, pitching 7 2/3 shutout innings, giving up seven hits, striking out five and walking two to lead the Mariners to a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
With the win, Iwakuma improves to 6-1 on the season and lowered his earned run average to 2.13 which is the second lowest in the American League. In 12 starts, he’s thrown 80 1/3 innings this season, he’s given up 57 hits, while striking out 74 and walking just 13 batters.
“He was really good today,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He had a live fastball. He had a lot of life on it at the plate. I thought he pitched up well. He used his splittie down well. He dropped that breaking ball in on occasions. It was nice lead pitch for him and at times he went to it later in counts. Just an all-around good ballgame for Iwakuma.”
That’s what he’s given the Mariners (24-31) all season. It’s why his own teammates won’t say they are surprised by this run of success.
“That’s a tough one because if you say yes, then you’re showing some doubt in him,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan. “We believe in him. With what he’s done in the past, we’re coming to expect this from him. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s a tribute to how good and nasty he is. I’d rather answer it that way because he’s been on an incredible run and there’s nothing showing it’s going to fade away.”
Iwakuma got into brief moments of trouble in his time on the mound.
In the third inning, he gave up a lead-off double to Chris Parmelee and a one out single to Aaron Hicks. With runners on the corners, Iwakuma got some help from Ryan. Jamey Carroll hit a ground ball up the middle. Ryan didn’t hesitate, charging the ball, fielding it on the run and throwing a strike to catcher Jesus Sucre to nail Parmelee at the plate.
“You just have to anticipate it getting over (Iwakuma’s) head and then make a decent throw because he was out by a few steps,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to say it was the most difficult play, but I saw it all happen beforehand.”
Iwakuma had runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth and got Carroll to ground out back to the mount. In the seventh, he had runners on the corners and again got Carroll to ground out to end the inning.
“I got into a couple of tough situations, but I was able to make good pitches, execute when I needed to, and that’s what got me out of the jams,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki.
Iwakuma may have a quiet docile exterior, but his competitive side comes through in those situations. Wedge likes to refer to him as a bulldog on the mound.
“He knows how to dig deep when he needs to,” Wedge said. “He understands the game. He’s able to slow the game down when he needs to slow the game down. But when he gets on a roll, he gets in a nice tempo and we’ve seen a lot of that this year.”
It’s taken a while, but Iwakuma is starting to turn heads nationally. People are beginning to realize just how well he’s pitching. At this point, he is the most deserving of the Mariners to be named to the American League all-star team.
The next most deserving all-star provided the offense for Iwakuma to get the win. First baseman Kendrys Morales broke a 0-0 tie in the sixth inning, crushing a two-run homer to center field off of Twins starter Mike Pelfrey.
“Kendrys does a great job of giving himself a chance on every pitch and eventually he’s going to get you,” Wedge said. “When he hit that, I didn’t think it was going to go. It just kept going. Like so many times, he’s the one who got us going today.”
Over the last 20 games, Morales has hit safely in 18 and is batting .361 (30-for-83) with nine doubles, five homers and 20 RBI over that time.
Morales isn’t doing anything complicated.
“The pitch was a fastball, and I was actually sitting on a fastball,” Morales said through translator and Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar. “My mindset when I go to the plate is sit on fastball, and if they throw something else I’ll change my approach and change my swing and get to that pitch.”
Morales hit it out to the deepest reaches of Target Field.
“I knew I hit it good,” he said. “I hit it on a line drive, so I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was going to go out, but I was happy to see it go out.”
Seattle tacked on another insurance run in the inning as Jesus Sucre, who isn’t known for being much of an offensive threat, collected his second hit of the game – an RBI single to right scoring Raul Ibanez.
“He went down and dug it out,” Wedge said of the pitch. “He’s really working hard. He’s doing a great job for us behind the plate. But he’s really working hard to be a more complete player and try to get something generated with the bat. And he helped us tonight.”