An already moribund week received another dose of negative news.
The Seattle Mariners’ No. 2 starter, a man skilled enough to finish third in last year’s Cy Young race, was not sure if he could pitch Sunday.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma had stiffness running between his shoulder blades and up into the base of his neck. The Mariners had lost five in a row. They were on the verge of losing Iwakuma for the day.
Trainers were summoned and muscles were stretched. Iwakuma felt loose and obligated. So, he pitched.
The Mariners rode him to a 5-1 losing-streak-snapping win over the Texas Rangers. A hefty crowd of 39,196 watched Iwakuma’s mastery be backed by four hits from Kyle Seager on Father’s Day.
Iwakuma’s ERA dipped to 2.59 after his eight innings. He allowed one run — a who’s that homer to Rangers first baseman Brad Snyder in the second inning. Otherwise, he squelched a Texas attack limited because of multiple players on the disabled list.
His season started late because of a spring time finger strain. Following his ninth start of the year, Iwakuma presented himself as gaining power.
“My body is starting to get used to season mood,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I’m feeling a lot better and stronger. I think I’m good to go from here on.”
He also feels that way in regard to the stiff neck. Iwakuma expects to receive treatment between now and his next scheduled start on Friday in Kansas City. He suspects it was an one-off incident.
There was doubt Sunday, however. Before and during his bullpen warmup, Iwakuma wondered if he was capable of pitching.
“To be honest yes, as I was playing catch, I did feel that way,” Iwakuma said. “I needed to pitch today. I felt responsible, especially after losing five in a row. I wanted to go out there and give it all I’ve got.”
It was sufficient once Kyle Seager finally pushed some of his teammates around the bases. The Mariners are tied for last in the American League in batting average, constantly attempting to score with smoke, mirrors and backups.
Seattle put at least one runner on base in the first four innings. It did not score. Endy Chavez’s double in the bottom of the first did not lead to a run. Three hits in the second inning were merely stat fillers.
“We were luring them into a false sense of security,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I don’t know what the hell you call that. We didn’t get it done.”
Mercifully, Seager’s double down the right-field line in the fifth scored two – Robinson Cano, who was the designated hitter for eight innings, and Chavez. It vaulted the Mariners to a 2-1 lead.
Seager is not big in Texas after dominating Rangers pitching, numbers bolstered by his 4-for-4 Sunday afternoon. Over the last 42 games against Texas, Seager is hitting .392. He does not have an elaborate explanation.
“It’s just one of those things,” Seager said.
The Mariners were able to add three runs in the eighth. Singles from John Buck, Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley were joined by a double from Seager. Two sacrifices pushed runs across. The 5-1 lead was enough to put closer Fernando Rodney back in his seat. Charlie Furbush pitched the ninth inning to finish the game.
Seattle’s careening season carries on. It has losing streaks of eight and five games. It has also won five in a row twice. Sunday’s victory pushed Seattle back over .500, to 35-34. It is in third place in the American League West, a game ahead of Texas.
“We have a lot of confidence in ourselves, so it wasn’t really too big a deal (this week),” Seager said. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose five in a row, but we weren’t panicking.”