SEATTLE — Through the first couple weeks of the season, Hisashi Iwakuma has been the most impressive part of Seattle’s starting staff.
Iwakuma pitched 6 2-3 solid innings and got the better of countryman Yu Darvish as the Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 3-1 on Friday night to end a three-game losing streak.
In his three starts, Iwakuma has allowed a total of five earned runs and nine hits in 20 2-3 innings. While he is overshadowed by Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma’s start to 2013 is worth noticing.
Kyle Seager gave Seattle an offensive jolt with a two-run double in the first inning and Iwakuma made it stand.
“I knew from the very beginning it was going to be a pitchers game,” Iwakuma said through an interpreter. “And knowing that (Darvish) is on the mound on the other side, it’s always exciting because he’s a good pitcher.”
It was the seventh all-time pitching matchup between the pair, both in Japan and the majors. Darvish (2-1) holds a 4-3 advantage.
This time it was Iwakuma’s turn to shine.
He held the Rangers bats silent until the fourth inning when Ian Kinsler led off with a homer. That proved to be the extent of the Rangers’ offense as Iwakuma and three relievers combined to shut down Texas.
Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth for his fourth save.
“He was throwing pitches to the corner of the strike zone and had a good split working,” Texas DH Lance Berkman said.
“I might have counted three splits that stayed up all night. Everything else was in the zone and out. He was just really good. He threw a great game.”
He was perfect through three innings until Kinsler led off the fourth with a towering homer that barely cleared the glove of Raul Ibanez leaping at the wall in left.
It was the most obvious example to date of the new dimensions at Safeco Field being a factor.
A year ago, Kinsler’s homer would have either been caught on the warning track or caromed off the wall, which has been moved in slightly and lowered to 8 feet.
“It is what it is. But I have to keep the ball down and that ball was up. I paid the price for it,” Iwakuma said.
Instead of getting rattled, Iwakuma kept rolling. He retired the next five straight and eight of his final 11. Iwakuma left with two outs in the seventh after throwing 90 pitches, giving up just three hits and striking out six.
Texas had a chance to get to Iwakuma in the sixth when Kinsler led off with a single and was called safe stealing second base by umpire Gary Darling when replays clearly showed he was out.
With Mariners fans expressing their displeasure after the missed call was shown on the giant new video board, Iwakuma escaped the jam getting Berkman and Adrian Beltre to pop out to the infield to end the inning.
Iwakuma could have continued if not for problems with a blister on his pitching hand. He said a second blood blister was forming on top of the original and that was why his night ended after only 90 pitches.
“That was something I had to think about being on the mound. But I’ll be ready, I have five days of rest this time. I should be ready for my next start,” Iwakuma said.
Charlie Furbush took over with two outs in the seventh and allowed a single and a walk, but Stephen Pryor struck out pinch-hitter Craig Gentry to end the inning.
Darvish didn’t throw well in Seattle during his first season and didn’t start Year 2 much better. Darvish plunked Jason Bay for the first time with one out in the first, then gave up consecutive singles to Kendrys Morales and Ibanez, the second one scoring Bay.
Justin Smoak flew out to deep center field for the second out, but Seager continued to show signs of breaking free from an early slump. Seager lined a shot down the first base line and off the tip of Mitch Moreland’s glove for a two-run double.
But that was it for Seattle’s offense. Darvish didn’t allow a hit after Seager’s double and retired his final 12 batters before leaving after the sixth.
“I could have given up many runs in any inning. I just didn’t have my stuff today,” Darvish said.
Notes: Iwakuma walked Moreland with two outs in the fifth inning, the first walk he’s issued this season. His streak of 18 innings without a walk was the second-longest in franchise history. … In three career starts in Seattle, Darvish has a 7.71 ERA. … Seattle OF Michael Morse had reduced swelling in his fractured right little finger on Friday and the team is staying with the same timeline that he could be back from the injury in less than a week.