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 for an ERA of 2.18.
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,” Rangers DH Lance Berkman said of Iwakuma.
“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 fans expressing their displeasure after the missed call was shown on the giant new video board, Iwakuma escaped the jam by getting Berkman and Adrian Beltre to pop out to the infield.
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.