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Topic: Hisashi Iwakuma

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April 28, 2013 at 12:55 PM

Game thread: Mariners 1, Angels 1, bottom of 7th

Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakua has the best ERA of any AL pitcher since the All-Star Break of last season (minimum 15 starts) at 2.37.

Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakua has the best ERA of any AL pitcher since the All-Star Break of last season (minimum 15 starts) at 2.37.

Jason Bay just tied the game on the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh, hitting a solo homer just beyond the left field wall. That’s a Safeco-fences-moved-in shot right there and Jason Vargas is the victim. As for the Mariners, they truly needed that one. We’re tied 1-1 in the seventh.

2:40 p.m.: The Mariners blinked first and trail 1-0 after an unearned run by the Angels in the sixth courtesy of shortstop Robert Andino’s error. With Austin Romine on second and one out, Mike Trout hit a grounder to Andino, who appeared to have his eye on third base. Trout would have been tough to nail at first because he’s so quick up the line and Andino might have had a better shot at third. But the ball got by him and rendered the whole point moot.

2:15 p.m.: We’re still scoreless heading to the fifth inning of a solid mound duel between Hisashi Iwakuma and Jason Vargas. Remember, Vargas pitches for the Angels now. Both teams have two hits apiece, the Mariners getting a one-out double to right by Kelly Shoppach last frame. But they failed to get him any further than that.

Menawhile, Iwakuma has logged six strikeouts already and retired the last seven in a row.

12:55 p.m.: This is a pretty important game for the Mariners. Take today’s contest against former Mariners starter Jason Vargas and the Mariners will have claimed three of four from the Los Angeles Angels and grabbed their first series of the season.

It’s late April, so that series win is long overdue. The Mariners have also not won two in a row since April 1 and 2 in Oakland. I can guarantee you, this will never be a .500 club if the Mariners fail to win two in a row the rest of the season.

They have Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound today and have played three pretty good games to start this series. Win three here, they will start to distance themselves a bit from that putrid road trip and can focus on how to get themselves back to the .500 mark come June. Michael Saunders is expected back in action tomorrow for the Mariners as long as he feels OK playing center field for Class AAA Tacoma today.

Saunders text messaged manager Eric Wedge last night and told him “I’m ready!”

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Comments | More in game thread | Topics: Hisashi Iwakuma, jason vargas, Jesus Montero

February 26, 2013 at 3:06 PM

Mariners win fourth in a row with late Smoak bomb

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The Mariners came through late in this one for a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, courtesy of a two-run Justin Smoak homer off Brewers pitcher John Axford in the eighth inning.

Carlos Peguero had just doubled home the tying marker when Smoak stepped in and launched Axford’s 2-0 pitch deep beyond the right field wall. That put the Mariners up 6-4 and they held on from there for their fourth consecutive Cactus League victory. The latest homer for Smoak is his second this spring and second batting from the left side.

Justin Smoak (left) and Mariners congratulate each other on the field after today’s 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

He had an earlier single today lined cleanly into right field. Also a line drive the other way  to left field that Ryan Braun made a good play on for an out. As we’ve mentioned before, if he really has figured out this whole batting from the left side thing, a lot of the worries the team has about him will go away.

“I feel like it’s slowing the ball down a little bit,” Smoak said of his new approach and more compact swing from the left side, similar to what he’d done earlier in his pro career. “Early on (in spring training) you normally feel like everything’s a little quick and you’re trying to get your rhythm and timing down, but for me I’ve actually been seeing it a lot better than I thought it would be.”

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Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: franklin gutierrez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Justin Smoak

February 26, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Hisashi Iwakuma makes spring debut for Mariners

Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma delivers a pitch to Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers in first inning of today’s game. Braun grounded out.

1:58 p.m.: The Mariners still trail 4-3 as we head to the seventh inning. We saw another solid outing by non-roster bullpen guy Kameron Loe today as he tossed two innings against his former Brewers club of the past three seasons. Loe allowed one earned run on two hits, struck out a pair and didn’t walk anybody.

One of you emailed me asking whether I could get video of the “sausage race” they run down on the field midway through the sixth inning. As requested, here it is below.

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1:42 p.m.: The Mariners gave up runs in the thirdand fourth innings and trail 4-3 as we head to the sixth. Just got done talking to Hisashi Iwakuma about today’s outing, which stood in sharp contrast to what happened a year ago when his Cactus League debut was marred by a lack of command and general all-around hittability. Iwakuma agreed much has changed in the ensuing 12 months.

“Last year, I was more nervous and hesitant,” Iwakuma said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “This year, I’m more relaxed and comfortable with one year under my belt so it’s alot easier getting back into the game.”

Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma addresses members of the Japanese media after his outing today.

It’s not just on the mental side Iwakuma felt better. He said there’s a world of difference physically between now and his spring debut a year ago.

“I feel a lot stronger than I was last year,” he said. “And I’mvery comfortable with my strength.”

I asked him whether he’d changed his training regimen at all.

“I started (training) a lot earlier than I had in the past,” he said. “Not just my arm but my core as well. And that’s what helped me.”

That core training has him seeing a difference in his pitches. He threw a lot of two-seam (sinking) fastballs and splitters today, generating three consecutive ground balls. He got into a nice battle with Ryan Braun, who fouled several 2-2 offerings into the dirt before grounding out.

“Yes, I do feel the difference, especially when I throw my fastball,” Iwakuma said. “The pitches are low and in the strike zone. I feel they’re a lot sharper than they were before.”

And, of course, he’s simply a lot more used to life in the big leagues now.

“The first year and second year are always different,” he said. “You feel a lot more comfortable, like I said. Also, you don’t know what will happen, how your routine will play. You don’t know from left to right. As opposed to this year, when you know what to expect and you know when to be ready for the game, so that makes it a lot easier.”

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Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: franklin gutierrez, Hisashi Iwakuma

November 6, 2012 at 4:50 PM

The difference between “smart” spending and avoiding risk as Mariners enter free-agency period

We’ll be hearing quite a bit in the weeks ahead about what the Mariners should and shouldn’t do in the free agent and trade market. But one thing to be on the lookout for are the annual buzzwords and catchphrases that have come to dominate Mariners off-seasons past like the worst Christmas ghosts you could conjure up.
One of my favorite is “smart” spending.
What exactly is that? Some will suggest it was “smart” that the Mariners spent only $1.5 million on Hisashi Iwakuma. Really? OK, then, was it “dumb” that they threw away more than $2 million on George Sherrill, Shawn Camp and Hong Chih-Kuo?
Of course not.
Spending on Iwakuma wasn’t smart. And throwing money away on those other three pitchers wasn’t dumb. What it was, in every case, was a low-risk proposition.
Nothing more and nothing less.
Very little ventured, very little lost when it didn’t work out. And a little gained when it did. Half a season’s worth of good starting pitching in Iwakuma’s case.
Now, when he’s expected to pitch for a full-season and be good, Iwakuma costs a bit more. If he bombs this year, will it be dumb spending?
The reason I get into this is, very often I see people mistaking low-risk spending for smart spending. And there is an important distinction to make between the two. Just because a team has a low-risk proposition work out, it doesn’t mean they were smart with their money.
Had the Mariners gone on to win the World Series a la San Francisco Giants, I suppose we could argue that the Mariners were “smart” because they saved big money on Iwakuma and were able to otherwise use it to build an offense that could hit its way out of the proverbial paper bag.
But alas, no. That didn’t happen. The Mariners still finished last and still had the worst offense in the American League.
So, were they smart? Or did they just save money in some spots? I’ll go with the latter.
And like it or not, for this team to get to the next level, it will likely involve upping the risk factor out of the safe little comfort zone many of those who argue for “smart” spending are reluctant to venture beyond.

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Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins, Hisashi Iwakuma

November 2, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Hisashi Iwakuma re-signs with Mariners for two years plus an option

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Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has re-signed with the club through the 2014 season with an additional option year for 2015.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.com reports the deal as worth two years, $14 million, with Iwakuma getting $6.5 million in each of 2013 and 2014, then a $1 million buyout on a $7 million option for 2015.
The Mariners had an exclusive negotiating window with Iwakuma, 31, through tonight, after which he could have requested his release by the club.
“Hisashi did a very nice job for us at the end of last season as a starting pitcher and we are happy that we have come to a mutual agreement,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said in a release. “We look forward to his veteran presence and to his contributions for the next few seasons.”
The deal comes just hours after Zduriencik confirmed in an interview that he expects to have more financial resources available to him in 2013 than he did this past season,when the team opened with a payroll of about $85 million. More on that in the video above.

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November 2, 2012 at 8:21 PM

M’s give Hisashi Iwakuma a two-year extension

It went down to the wire, but the Mariners reached agreement tonight on a two-year contract extension for right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. He would have become a free agent if the Mariners didn’t sign him by Saturday; if that had happened, then even if they had re-signed Iwakuma, he wouldn’t have been eligible to play for the Mariners in the major leagues until mid-May.
But now Iwakuma is available for the entirety of 2013, when he figures to be an integral part of their rotation. He is extended through the 2014 season, with an option for 2015. No salary figures are yet available. He played last year for $1.5 million after signing as a free agent from Japan.

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November 2, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik confirms he expects to have more money available to spend than $85 million he opened last season with

This rates as some pretty big news if you’re a Mariners fan. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told me this afternoon that he expects to have more money made available to him for next season than he opened 2012 with.
As I wrote this morning, the Mariners opened last season with a payroll of about $82 million, but it was more like $85 million when you factor in Danny Hultzen’s big league deal plus the money owed to released pitchers Hong-Chih Kuo and Shawn Camp.
Just to be sure we were on the same page, I ran both figures by Zduriencik.
“Yes, I anticipate that it will be more than that,” he said.
Which means, the Mariners should have a whole bunch of money to spend this winter.
As I mentioned this morning, the team has just under $41 million committed to five players next season. Another $12 million or so could go to arbitration eligible players, then another $8 million would be spent on MLB minimum wage types if no new players are added. Throw on the $750,000 buyout for Miguel Olivo, that takes you to roughly $62 million.
So, that’s a $23 million difference with the $85 million the team opened last year at.
And Zduriencik says it could be more than that if the right deal comes along. No hard budget has been set for him yet, he added, but based on what he’s been told, he anticipates having more payroll room for 2013 if the right deal comes along.
One of those deals could be with pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. Zduriencik at present says he is heavily focused on negotiations with the Japanese pitcher — who could request his release as early as midnight tonight if no contract gets done.
Now, that’s not a hard and fast deadline. Iwakuma could choose to keep the negotiations going with Seattle a few more days, even another week, if he wants. But once he asks for the release part, there’s no way he’s coming back here because he’d be in a unique category of player (like Munenori Kawasaki) who could only return on a minor league deal.
And with that, he would not be eligible to pitch for the Mariners until late May. No way Seattle is signing him so he can pitch for only four months, so the time to get a deal done is drawing close. After tonight, it’s all in Iwakuma’s hands and he can walk at any time.

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Comments | Topics: Hisashi Iwakuma, Oliver Perez

November 2, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Mariners have about $23 million they can spend this winter before even reaching last season’s opening payroll

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We’re just about set to kick off the 2012-2013 free-agent season for the Mariners, with only Hisashi Iwakuma left to figure out. The Mariners have until tomorrow to re-sign Iwakuma — as per a stipulation in his contract — or else he goes on the open market and would not be eligible to play for Seattle until May 31 if he was to come back here.
In other words, he signs in the next day or so, or he isn’t playing here.
The exclusive window the Mariners had to re-sign their remaining free agents came and went last night with no further deals. (NOTE: Actually, that’s not true. The deadline for that is at 9 p.m. PT tonight, not last night as had been reported in many places, including here I guess.)
That means, we now know where the team’s payroll roughly stands. It isn’t too tough to figure out, but there are also a couple of things to keep in mind, like Danny Hultzen’s major league deal and Miguel Olivo’s buyout. The Mariners, for their own accounting purposes, tend to keep things like those on-the-books for ensuing seasons, as they did with Dustin Ackley’s Hultzen-like deal in the past. As well as buyouts for guys like Bill Hall and Jack Wilson, which were similar to Olivo’s and carried over to the following year’s payroll figures.
So, keeping that in mind, the Mariners currently sit at roughly $41 million in guaranteed money committed to their 2013 team. They will have to pay out another $12 million or so in arbitration awards, unless they non-tender one of their eligible players. Assuming Hultzen stays in the minors to start the season and the teamfills out its remaining roster spots with minimum wage guys, the roster going into 2013 would be roughly $62 million.
Last year’s payroll came in just under $82 million for the Opening Day roster. But throw in $1.2 million to pay Shawn Camp and Hong-Chih Kuo to go away, plus another $1.7 million for Hultzen’s guaranteed deal, you get about $85 million as a total payroll figure at the start of the year.
In other words, playing by those same parameters, the team now has about $23 million in room to play with just to get back to that $85 million figure. They are about $33 million in payroll away from where they began the 2011 season.
So, yeah, the Mariners should be able to go after and actually sign some free agents this off-season. Heck, they could have done it last winter, knowing they would be having so much money come off the books in just 12 months time. You don’t go and sign guys to deals of three years or more based strictly on what payroll commitments are for the 12 months ahead.
There has to be some foresight involved in the process. Right now, the Mariners have just under $41 million committed to Felix Hernandez, Chone Figgins, Franklin Gutierrez, Ackley and Hultzen.
This time 12 months from now, they can free up an additional $15 million and change once the Figgins and Gutierrez deals run out — assuming the Mariners merely buy Gutierrez out for $500,000.
So, all that should be kept in mind when we debate what the team can and cannot afford over the longer term. Some teams have already gotten the jump on trades and signing back some of their own players.
Brandon League just got a three-year, $22.5-million deal from the Dodgers, which makes the $5 million he earned in Seattle last season seem relatively small. We’ll have to keep an eye on salary inflation, naturally, because having $23 million to spend this winter might not be anywhere close to whatit was two or three years ago.
So, we’ll see. On the turn, I’ll show you specific salary breakdowns.
Photo Credit: AP

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Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley

October 12, 2012 at 10:24 AM

Don’t get locked in on specific names: Mariners need certain types of players to boost 2013 fortunes

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ADDITIONAL NOTE: For my season-ending wrap-up of Talkin’ Baseball with Mitch Levy on Sports Radio KJR, click the box below.
Mulling over the vast array of Mariners improvement suggestions popping up in the blogosphere, it struck me that the 2012-2013 off-season won’t be as much about names as it will be specific player types. In a way, that hasn’t changed much from last winter, when the Mariners could have gone Prince Fielder, or could have gone instead for multiple players including Josh Willingham, or could have gone for all that put together.
In the end, they settled on not really doing much of anything.
That won’t work anymore. Didn’t really work this year, other than getting a 95-loss team to a 75-win team. And of course, the unstated “progress” of allowing the Mariners’ ownership to benefit from cutting payroll from $95 million to $82 million from Opening Day of 2011 to Opening Day of 2012.
Right now, payroll sits at about $60 million for the team that ended 2012.

The Mariners could theoretically spend about $20 million more this winter on raises and new players and placate some fans, then enter 2013 with an Opening Day payroll of $80 million — which would be yet another cut from Opening Day of 2012. But still, it might keep some of the masses happy. Even though those masses will have had to be forced to endure another season of last-place baseball in 2012 to get to that point.
This is what I wrote about last week. The Mariners over the past two years have had a bunch of expiring contracts coming due and faced a choice: either to work around those contracts by acquiring better (i.e. more expensive) players in hopes of producing a competitive team that could possibly surprise some people. Or, they could simply tread water with minimum-MLB-wage types carrying the load while waiting for contracts to expire.
So far, they’ve chosen the latter route. And as long as fans are willing to wait as last-place season after last-place season piles up — under the neatly-packaged, non-goal-defined “rebuilding plan” label — then it’s a route the team can get away with. Other teams have done it for years on end in small and mid-sized markets. The only difference is, few have had the fiscal advantages of the Mariners in terms of the tax-subsidized ballpark, the great TV market and the overall wealth of the local populace, not to mention a passionate, loyal fanbase.
So, as long as you don’t mind waiting another year for the Chone Figgins deal and the Franklin Gutierrez deal to run out, the Mariners could probably afford to tread water yet again this winter, put a fourth-place team on the field next year and then start seriously trying to win again in 2014 and 2015 without raising payroll at all from where it was to begin 2012. I’m not going to tell you that’s morally right or wrong. But I will make sure to provide you the context. Just keep in mind, whatever this team does, it is in line to be among the next recipients of a massive new regional sports network (RSN) deal that will provide a cash injection similar (though likely not identical) to what the Rangers and Angels just received in terms of jumpstarting their payrolls.
Keep in mind, as well, that because of that deal and the fact the team’s debt ratio is zero (largely because it keeps cutting payroll), the franchise value of the Mariners keeps escalating. Don’t be surprised to see the franchise evaluated at close to a billion dollars once details of that new TV deal become known. That’s on an initial purchase price of $100 million plus another $112 million in additional ownership funding (the last of which pre-dates the Safeco Field era). As long as you’re OK with the cost-cutting and the Mariners avoiding big-spending improvements given that context, then you’ll be a relatively happy fan even with another fourth-place team.
After all, what else could the Mariners be doing to improve?
I’ll humbly suggest they could be spending a little more. Could have done it every winter since the end of 2009. The only difference now is, a $130 million team three winters ago will now cost about $95 million because of all the contracts that have come off the books. What a bargain, huh? All it cost was three last-place seasons. Funny how money works.
That $95 million is the same payroll the Mariners opened with at the start of last season, in April 2011. Is it too much to ask? I don’t think so. And neither does this local blogger, who outlined his plan/proposal for 2013 earlier in the week.
In the end, with incentives tacked on, he comes up with a budget in the $90 million-to-$95 million range.
Photo Credit: AP

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Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley, Hisashi Iwakuma

October 2, 2012 at 11:33 PM

Hisashi Iwakuma’s words to live by: “Don’t pitch the cookies”

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Somebody asked Hisashi Iwakuma after tonight’s 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels what he had learned this season about facing big league hitters.
He thought about it briefly, then gave his answer through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba.
“Don’t pitch the cookies.”
Sounds like good advice. And fitting advice on a day the Mariners announced plans to move in the Safeco Field fences next season.
Judging by what we saw tonight, the pitchers at this ballpark next season had better avoid cookies like a contestant on Extreme Loser.
Let’s see…I counted two Casper Wells shots, another by Dustin Ackley and a Michael Saunders double for the Mariners, not to mention a Hank Conger blast for the Angels that all might have gone out with next year’s planned fences pull-in. So, instead of a 6-1 game tonight, it could have been something like 10-6. I’ll admit, I stopped counting deep fly balls at one point, so I’m sure I missed a few.
But next season sure could be interesting.
Kyle Seager didn’t need any fence moving to hit his 20th home run of the season. It helped that the ball went to right field. But let’s face it, who really thought this winter that Seager had 20-homer power?
Not me. That’s for sure.
Turns out, not him either.
“I’ve always considered myself a kind of stay-more-gap-to-gap type of guy,” Seager said, after becoming the first Mariners player since Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez in 2009 to hit 20 home runs. “I don’t really consider myself a home run hitter and I’m not really a slap-and-run type of guy. I’m not really a base-stealer type of guy. So, I’ve always tried to be a gap-to-gap type of hitter and try to hit doubles and stuff like that.”
So, what does he think about hitting 20 homers?
“You know, it’s exciting,” he said. “So, it’s something to build off for next year.”
Ok, I asked him, so can we put him down for 30 homers now that the fences are being moved in?
“No, no,” he said, laughing. “Don’t put me down for that.”
In all seriousness, I asked, how does he think the fences coming in will impact his game?
“I think the beauty of it is, you don’t really try,” he said. “When you’re trying to hit home runs, they don’t happen. So, with them moving the fences in, it’s definitely exciting for the position players. I don’t think our pitchers are going to be affected too much because they’re pretty good.
“There were quite a few balls tonight that were well-hit,” he added. “Wells might have had two homers and Saunders had that ball to dead center right off the wall, so that might have made a little bit of a difference.
“But I think it would affect us in a negative way if we started really thinking about it and trying to hit balls in the air and that type of deal. I think if everybody continues with what we’ve been doing as of late, we’ll be good.”

Do you agree with the Mariners’ decision to move in Safeco Field’s fences?

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Comments | Topics: Dustin Ackley, Hisashi Iwakuma

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