When the Seattle Mariners signed Hisashi Iwakuma in the offseason, it seemed like he could become a reliable pitcher in the starting rotation. He didn't do all that well in spring training, though, and found himself sent to the bullpen when the regular season began. I thought it was an odd move at the time, but now I really enjoy watching Iwakuma pitch out of the bullpen.
Iwakuma is the perfect definition of a long reliever, giving the Mariners good innings right in the middle of ballgames. He didn't really seem to find a lot of comfort out there until June began, though, but ever since a great outing on June 2 he has pitched a lot better.
Maybe his success goes back to a three-inning stint that he made against the Texas Rangers on May 30. With the team way ahead and in need of a pitcher to eat up some innings, Iwakuma came in to pitch the final three innings of the game. He did give up 3 runs on 5 hits, but picked up his first career save in the process.
Getting recognition in the form of that save, as well as some nice work out of the bullpen, might have given him the necessary confidence. I certainly think it has, because he has a different demeanor on the mound now. He doesn't appear the decision to come to the U.S. haunts him, but rather that he is ready to pitch to the competition.
In the month of June, Iwakuma has appeared in 6 games, pitching 9 2/3 innings while giving up just 1 run. That's an ERA of less than 1.00, which goes along very nicely with the 5 total hits that he has allowed. In his last outing against the San Francisco Giants on June 16, Iwakuma went 2 strong innings to pick up his first career win in relief.
I think that Iwakuma has slowly become a very reliable weapon in the Mariners' arsenal and that he could end up pitching some very valuable innings for the team in the second half. I only hope that Eric Wedge can continue to find work for him on the mound just so Iwakuma can stay sharp.
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*Ryan is a lifelong Seattle Mariners fan who never misses an opportunity to attend a game at Safeco Field. He has been attending games since 1985, and has fond memories of The Kingdome, Edgar Martinez, and the historic 1995 team. Sodo Mojo!