After their lineup struggled against the Seattle Mariners' staff ace, the New York Yankees must face a starter performing as though he's in that role.
However, if the Yankees can keep the game close against Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma on Wednesday night, they might feel good about their chances considering how dominant their bullpen has been.
Iwakuma (4-1, 1.74 ERA) is among the major league leaders in ERA and is holding opposing batters to a .167 average to rank third. He has compiled 33 strikeouts in his last 25 innings. The right-hander won a second straight start Friday, surrendering four hits and two runs while striking out nine in a 6-3 win over Oakland.
"He repeats. He's so consistent with his delivery, his arm action, his arm slot, release point, it's tough to see what is coming out," manager Eric Wedge said. "That's what you have to do. If you're going to be a solid starting pitcher up here, you've got to do that."
Iwakuma is taking the mound one night after former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez struck out eight in six innings, leaving with a 3-1 lead due to a minor back problem. New York (25-14) rallied to win 4-3.
At least one Seattle teammate, third baseman Kyle Seager, was willing to mention the better known Hernandez and Iwakuma in the same breath.
"Those two have just been on another level," Seager said. "Everybody knows Felix, obviously, but (Iwakuma) he's been flying under the radar a little bit but he's been just as impressive. It's been pretty fun to play behind those two especially."
Almost no hitters are having fun facing New York's relief corps lately, a big reason the team has won seven of eight. Yankees relievers have thrown 24 2-3 consecutive scoreless innings, allowing 10 hits and four walks while striking out 25.
Shawn Kelley, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera combined to no-hit Seattle over the final 2 2-3 innings Tuesday.
"We knew coming into the season that that was going to be one of our stronger points on the team, and these guys haven't disappointed," CC Sabathia told the Yankees' official website about the bullpen. "They've come out every time out and given us a chance to win and shut down games when we needed to. It's exciting."
Rivera posted his fifth save in seven days Tuesday, surrendering three hits and no runs in that span. He tops the majors with 16 saves and has yet to blow an opportunity. Robertson hasn't given up a run or a hit in 5 2-3 innings this month.
That combination leaves Seattle (18-21) likely looking for a big night against Yankees scheduled starter Phil Hughes (2-2, 4.43).
However, New York has won his last four starts, and Hughes has won back-to-back outings after going winless through his first five. Six days after throwing eight scoreless innings to beat Oakland, Hughes escaped with a win in Kansas City on Friday as he allowed seven hits and six runs in 5 2-3 innings of an 11-6 victory.
The right-hander was given 10 runs of support after receiving a combined 11 over his first six starts.
"Thankfully, I was able to bring my not-so-good game on a day we scored a lot of runs," said Hughes, who is 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA in his last four games against the Mariners.
Iwakuma faced the Yankees twice last year, allowing four runs in 10 innings while going 0-1.
Vernon Wells is 4 for 5 against him and enters this matchup batting .414 with three homers and nine RBIs in his last eight games.
Wells is now hitting in front of cleanup man Curtis Granderson, who was 0 for 3 on Tuesday in his season debut after breaking his forearm during spring training.