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July 2, 2012 at 9:20 PM

Hisashi Iwakuma makes starting debut for the Mariners

Baltimore messed around on defense once too often the past two innings and it cost them big-time. Casper Wells delivered a three-run double to right-center with two out in the bottom of the seventh to give Seattle a 4-3 lead.
That’s the big hit the M’s have lacked. But they needed help to get there. A leadoff walk to Dustin Ackley was followed by a Chone Figgins strikeout and what should have been a double-play as Ackley had broken for second and was a dead duck.
But the perfect throw from catcher Matt Wieters was dropped and Ackley was safe. That changed the entire inning as there was now a man on second with one out instead of two out and none on. Jason Hammel had command issues all inning and yielded a single to Munenori Kawasaki that sent runners to the corners.
Brendan Ryan popped out foul to Wieters for the second out. But Hammel walked Ichiro to load the bases and bring up Wells — who might never have gotten to the plate had the steal throw on Ackley been caught.
Wells made the most of his chance, driving an 0-1 pitch to the right center gap and clearing the bases.
8:39 p.m.: We’ve played five innings and the Mariners trail 3-1. Not a bad outing by Hisashi Iwakuma, now done after five with Steve Delabar on. But Iwakuma lost it briefly in the fourth when the Orioles connected for a single, a walk and then a mammoth three-run homer to right by Chris Davis that Ichiro barely moved a muscle on.
Davis very nearly had a two-run homer off Iwakuma in the second inning on a ball that hit the top of the left field wall, so I’d say some of those long ball tendancies Iwakuma displayed in relief appear to have stuck with him so far. Otherwise, it’s been a solid outing.
The Mariners have just three hits to this point and scored their only run in the third inning when Chone Figgins singled, was sacrificed to second and came around on a Brendan Ryan single to center. I normally don’t like buntin this early on with a runner on first and none out, but the strategy paid off for Eric Wedge as Munenori Kawasaki got the bunt down and Ryan drove in the run.
Ryan made it to second on the throw but the next two batters struck out. And that’s why, sometimes, you play for one run as Wedge did when your team is struggling as bad as the Mariners. Yes, the bunt actually lowered the odds of Seattle scoring under normal circumstances. But the odds also said the M’s getting anything more than one additional hit that inning were pretty slim as well given what we’ve seen this homestand, so banking on Kawasaki not getting that hit and that a runner had best be on second if someone else did get it was a decent calculation in my estimation.
And oh yeah, it worked. So, my thoughts on this issue don’t really matter this time.

What grade would you give the Mariners in the first half of the season?

7:54 p.m.: Very good start for Hisashi Iwakuma so far. He’s got the movement on his secondary pitches that he needs and is getting a ton of mis-hit balls. One ball that wasn’t mis-hit was a shot off the top of the left field wall by Chris Davis in the second inning. About a foot and a half from being a two-run homer. But it stayed in the park and Iwakuma got out of the jam.
So, we’re scoreless heading to the bottom of the third. Four strikeouts for Iwakuma already. He’s got the movement he’s sometimes lacked and is spotting his fastball consistently well.
7:07 p.m.: Hey everybody, it’s Iwakuma Time! No, no, the Mariners aren’t down by five runs in the fourth inning. Not yet, anyway. Tonight is when Hisashi Iwakuma makes his long-awaited starting debut. There were times this spring when it seemed like it would never happen. Iwakuma arrived in Peoria lacking command and control, his velocity was down and the team’s braintrust was scared out of its mind over letting him start in a game that actually counted.
That’s when GM Jack Zduriencik and company made the decision to put him in the bullpen to start the year. Zduriencik told me in Tokyo right before the last exhibition game there — when Iwakuma got hammered by the Yomiuri Giants — that he was confident Iwakuma could use the next month or so to get his arm fully recovered from the troubles he went through last season.
To pitch in the big leagues, you have to throw with conviction. There was a sense that Iwakuma’s arm wasn’t all the way back yet — he admitted he was down in velocity from where he needed to be — and that he wasn’t fully ready to unleash every pitch full-throttle. You could tell by the movement — or lack thereof — on many of his offerings that something just wasn’t there. He didn’t have overpowering stuff to begin with and too many of his pitches were coming in flat — which will happen if your mechanics are off a bit because a prior injury is making you hesitate even the slightest when releasing the ball. Iwakuma told me in Japan, after Yomiuri throttled him, that his elbow was dropping and causing his pitches to flatten out.
So, the team worked with him extensively behind the scenes. He was eased back into games and learned how to prepare and recover more quickly. Now, here we are. So, let’s see what the team has in him.
We’ve got an interesting lineup tonight. Justin Smoak has the night off so he can “watch a game” as per Eric Wedge. Dustin Ackley moves over to first base and Munenori Kawasaki is in at second.
Jesus Montero is also getting the night off. Wedge wants him to watch a game as well, collect himself and come back ready to contribute in the second half.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Hisashi Iwakuma


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