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You can add the Phillies to the list of teams that find out how difficult it is to face Hisashi Iwakuma when he’s on.
The Phillies came into Tuesday night’s game at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark with just one player on the roster – Ben Revere – having faced Iwakuma in a major league game.
They left the game on Tuesday night frustrated and flabbergasted and without a run on the scoreboard.
The Mariners’ right-hander carved up the Phillies, tossing eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits and leading Seattle to a 5-2 win.
“He was outstanding,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He commanded all of his pitches. He was in and out and up and down. He did a tremendous job for us.”
Iwakuma was dominant and efficient, throwing 96 pitches with a whopping 76 strikes. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out 11. He found a rhythm, got ahead of hitters, racked up outs and continued work at a steady pace for the entire outing to improve to 12-6 on the season and lower his ERA to 2.57 on the season. Only one runner even reached second base.
“He keeps the ball down in the zone so well and he’s done a great job lately of elevating to change the eye level,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “That’s really been setting up the splitfinger. Seeing him for the first time has got to be frustrating.”
The numbers reflect that frustration in interleague play. Iwakuma has made three interleague starts in National League parks in his career, and never given up a run in 22 innings pitched.
He’s currently in the midst of a streak of 17 2/3 shutout innings over his last three starts this season.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and go after hitters,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I felt like everything was working today.”
Iwakuma was so locked in he didn’t even realize he’d struck out 11 batters.
“I didn’t know that,” he said. “But in situations, we all have to execute and I was able to make pitches when I needed to.”
It was quite the opposite for Phillies starter A.J. Burnett, who pitched every bit like his record 6-14 record and 4.42 ERA reflects. In a sign of things to come, Burnett walked Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley to start the game. Both runners would come around to score, with Jackson hustling home on a Robinson Cano ground ball to second and Ackley scoring on Logan Morrison’s RBI single up the middle.
“He’s got good stuff,” Morrison said. “He just wasn’t locating and we were able to take advantage. I found a hole. I didn’t hit it very hard but it got through.”
It was the start of a 125-pitch night for Burnett that featured just 75 strikes and one 1-2-3 inning. Still, Burnett managed to pitch his way out of the trouble for the next four innings before Kyle Seager took advantage of the lack of command to start the sixth. Seager, one of Seattle’s more patient hitters, took three pitches out of the zone for balls.
McClendon gave Seager the green light on a 3-0 count – something he’s done more than a few times this season. Seager rewarded the confidence by blasting a fastball deep into the right field seats for his team-high 19th homer of the season. This season, he’s 2-for-3 with two homers and five RBI when swinging at a 3-0 pitch.
“There’s a certain amount of trust there,” McClendon said. “We are playing in a small ballpark and you don’t have to get it all to get it out of here. He put a good swing on a pretty good pitch.”
Seager wasn’t necessarily looking only for a homer, but he wasn’t thinking soft single.
“It’s definitely an aggressive approach,” he said. “You are looking for something to drive.”
The Mariners added to their 3-0 lead in the eighth inning. Mike Zunino gave the Mariners two insurance runs, singling through the left side and scoring both runners.
“I was watching the at-bats before I got up and it looked like his command was up and down,” Zunino said. “When I got to two strikes, I just had to be on time for his fastball and adjust from there. I was able to get one and hit it hard enough to get through the hole.”
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg finally ended the Burnett misery, pulling him after the Zunino single. Burnett’s pitching line didn’t lack for crooked numbers. He pitched 7 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on six hits with four walks, two hit batters and nine strikeouts.
With Iwakuma at 96 pitches and fighting a building cramp in his calf and a few relievers in need of a little work, McClendon called on Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina in the ninth inning. Neither was particularly sharp. Furbush walked Jimmy Rollins to start the inning. He got a ground ball for a fielder’s choice out and then struck out Ryan Howard for the second out.
McClendon then brought in Medina to get the final out with a runner on first. He couldn’t do it. Medina gave up a single to Byrd, then later wild pitched Chase Utley home. Domonic Brown doubled to right field to score Byrd and cut the lead to 5-2. After Medina hit Carlos Ruiz with a pitch, putting runners on first and second and the tying run at the plate, McClendon had called on closer Fernando Rodney, who struck out Cody Asche to end the game. Rodney picked up his 36th save with that one out.
“Not how we want to close it out,” McClendon said. “I’m upset I had to use my closer in that situation. But those things happen.”