Last week in Minnesota, Hisashi Iwakuma faced a crumbling Twins team and held them to a run on just one hit over six innings.
Pretty good, right?
Well, not really. He walked three batters, hit another with a pitch and also uncorked a wild-pitch in the first three innings of that game. A better team would likely have jumped all over him, which prompted irate Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to rip into his hitters post-game for their lack of quality at-bats.
Today’s outing by Iwakuma? Night and day different.
First, he was facing an Angels team that had won 9 of 11 and knows it can’t give any more games away as it tries to stay in a playoff race. Second, Iwakuma simply refused to give the Angels any opportunities they’d be regretting later.
Instead of coming out and nibbling on the edges, he went right at the Angels with quality, moving fastballs, then followed it up with breaking balls and splitters they could not get good wood on.
The final line: 7 1/3 innings, zero runs, five hits, seven strikeouts and no walks.
That’s how you beat a good team.
I asked manager Eric Wedge post-game whether Iwakuma’s early command was as good as it seemed compared to last week.
“I thought it was evident, too,” he said. “It’s funny that you mention that, I felt the same way. The way he was pounding the zone early, I feel like he took control of the ballgame right away from the first pitch on. He had real good stuff today and had a live fastball. There was something on the end of his fastball as it approached home plate.
“It was just a great effort against a very good-hitting ballclub.”
Wedge was asked by someone else about Iwakuma string of recent outings — in which he’s allowed one earned run in four starts — and he again mentioned that today was different.
“Well, this was a little bit different,” he said. “The last couple, he had to battle through them and never gave in to it. He bent but he didn’t break. Prior to that, you saw a lot more of what you saw today. But arguably, this might have been the best stuff we’ve seen him have. He’s had some other real good games as well, but when you talk about that (Angels) lineup and how aggressive he was and how he used all of his pitches, you just can’t say enough about the performance he gave us.”
Iwakuma had previously struck out 13 Toronto Blue Jays hitters just over a month ago, but that Toronto team has played just 17-30 ball in the second half. Not quite the same as facing a stacked Angels club that was on a roll with guys like Mike Trout, Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols doing the hitting.
I agree with the manager. This was the best stuff Iwakuma has had all season.
When Iwakuma was at his locker post-game, I asked him — through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba — about his command today versus his past coiple of outings.
“My fastball was pretty good from the start, as were my balance and command,” Iwakuma said, through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba. “That’s why I was able to do what I did in today’s game.”
It really is about Iwakuma spotting his fastball and in a quality manner. When he gets that late movement on them, it makes all the difference as opposed to them coming in flat — as was the case, for instance, back in spring training.
Once again, he did not allow a home run. That’s big, too.
Other than an Albert Pujols double in the fourth, I really don’t remember the Angels squaring up on much of anything he threw.
Jesus Montero and Carlos Peguero took care of the offense with two solo homers. Once again, the Mariners did all of their scoring in just one or two innings, but it wound up — just barely — being enough because of the stellar pitching.
Montero has hit four career homers off Weaver — three of them in the past three weeks.
“I just try to hit the ball to right field all the time because he throws across his body,” Montero said of Weaver. “He’s tough, he’s a tough guy. He’s got good pitches…and he changes speeds a lot. I got lucky, I think.”
The home run went to left-center.
Peguero said he was trying to hit the ball the other way to left field and wound up drilling a towering blast to right.
Just goes to show, the right approach can pay off in strange ways.
In Peguero’s case, he’s been working on staying more relaxed at the plate and hanging back in order to see pitches better. Weaver had been throwing him cut-fastballs in the at-bat, but Peguero waited long enough to identify the low change-up that came next and did not miss it.
“I tried to stay back because I’d seen him last year and he threw me a lot of off-speed pitches,” Peguero said. “I just tried to look for a good one and stay back. I was thinking of taking it the other way and putting a good swing on the ball.”
Peguero also nearly had an RBI single. But Montero wound up thrown out at home when he tried to slide around the plate and dart his hand in as opposed to going in feet first.
Montero says he definitely touched the plate with his hand and that Angels catcher Chris Iannetta never tagged him. But plate ump Alan Porter saw it differently.
“He said it was a close play and he’s got to make a call,” Montero said. “I told him ‘Hey, he never tagged me!’ and he said, if I’d gotten my feet into home plate, he would have called me safe.”
Montero was later called out at first base when attempting a similar slide instead of runnin through the bag or leading with his feet. Mariners manager Wedge — in a light-hearted tone — suggested afterwards that something might have to be done about Montero’s technique.
“A lot of the kids do that these days,” Wedge said. “They try to go around instead of going straight through it. Jesus is a big man. There’s no need for him to be going around. He needs to get there as quickly as he can.”
There won’t be many games where Montero’s sliding ability will come into play, compared to his big bat. But just in case, you can be pretty sure he’ll do it differently next time.
As for Iwakuma, he doesn’t have to do anything different. He should bottle this up and use it every time. That’s bonafide No. 2 starter’s stuff right there.