Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge was hesitant to use RHP Hisashi Iwakuma early in the 2012 season, as he did not make his MLB debut until Apr. 20 out of the bullpen, and did not make his first start until July 2. Iwakuma made only 16 starts, but that was apparently enough for GM Jack Zduriencik to sign him to a two-year deal worth $14 million this winter.
In the 16 starts that he made, Iwakuma went 8-4 with a very good ERA of 2.65 in 95 innings pitched.
Like most Japanese pitchers, Iwakuma does not have overpowering stuff and relies on getting groundball outs. The key to Iwakuma’s success in 2012 was his splitter, a pitch that was an incredible 9.6 runs above average, better than any other American League pitcher with that pitch.
Although 2012 was his first major league season, the 31-year old Iwakuma has plenty of professional experience, as he pitched ten seasons in Japan before he came to the US.
Iwakuma will not have any problem handling the workload of a full season in the Mariners rotation, as he pitched 150+ innings six times during his Japanese career.
The righty is more confident this year than he was last year: “the first year and second year are always different,” he said. “You feel a lot more comfortable…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.”
The Mariners organization has put a lot of pressure on Iwakuma going into his second MLB season, as he will likely occupy the third spot in the rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Joe Saunders.