Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is set to make his first start of the 2014 MLB season this afternoon against the Houston Astros. Slowly but surely, the puzzle that is the Seattle Mariners’ rotation is is starting to become congruent again.
Iwakuma made strides in 2012 when he transitioned from a bullpen role to a starter, ending the season with a very respectable ERA of 3.16. Then in 2013, the Japanese right-hander broke out. Starting 33 games for the Mariners, he went 14-6 and with a 2.66 ERA, placing him third in AL Cy Young voting.
Iwakuma is no spring chicken. He turned 33 on April 12. The positive note Mariners fans can take away from his late start is that his time on the DL was not related to his mechanics or any structural damage to his pitching arm. He suffered a strained/sprained finger on his throwing hand during Spring Training. A frustrating and rather tedious injury for a baseball player to endure, but certainly not the same red flags that elbow or shoulder inflammation brings about.
In a city were Felix Hernandez is king, last year in Seattle, Iwakuma may well have been emperor. He bested Hernandez in just about every pitching category (IP, W-L, ERA and WHIP) except for strikeouts.
Iwakuma will be a very a welcomed addition to the Mariners’ roster tonight at Minute Maid Park, and will be a large reason if the Mariners continue to experience success moving forward in the 2014 season. Seattle is 5-5 across its last 10 ball games, through which third baseman Kyle Seager is riding a seven-game hit-streak.
Iwakuma will face Dallas Keuchel, who missed a fair number of Mariners’ bats on April 21 in Seattle. He was the winning pitcher on that night, going six innings strong, allowing one earned run and striking out eight. Iwakuma will do his best to ensure the Astros do not take a 2-0 series lead this weekend in their best of three set.