MINNEAPOLIS — Seattle’s late-summer surge has been fueled, naturally, by strong starting pitching.
Even the offense has been perking up. After so many rough seasons, August has been a pleasant month for these Mariners.
Dustin Ackley hit a three-run homer, Hisashi Iwakuma was hard to hit and the Mariners beat the stumbling Minnesota Twins, 5-2, on Tuesday night.
“Ever since the All-Star break, I feel like we’ve been hitting more consistently,” Ackley said. “We’ve had a couple games where we might not have scored as many as we like, but overall I feel like our hitting has been great.”
Iwakuma (5-3) gave up one hit and one unearned run over six innings in another strong start for the rookie from Japan. The right-hander struck out four and helped send the Twins to their 16th defeat in their past 19 games despite four walks, a hit batsman and a wild pitch.
“He did it the hard way,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “He was erratic. Didn’t quite have the same command that he normally does, but he didn’t give into it.”
Ackley hit a fastball from Scott Diamond (10-6) into the flower bed above right-center field following consecutive singles by Trayvon Robinson and Brendan Ryan to start the fifth inning.
“I just left it right in his bat path,” said Diamond, who gave up more than three runs for the first time in seven starts since July 21.
After Ryan Doumit’s RBI double off Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen got the last out of the ninth inning for his 20th save in 23 attempts. The announced attendance was 29,854, the first sub-30,000 crowd to watch the Twins since Target Field opened in 2010.
The Mariners, who began the day nine games behind in the AL wild-card race, have won 12 out of 16. They have won seven in a row against the Twins and raised their record to 63-67.
“I think after we had a couple of those winning streaks and started hitting real well, I think it was in everybody’s mind,” Ackley said of reaching the .500 mark. “I think the more we won, the more we believed that we could do that.”
Iwakuma is 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his past eight starts. Mariners starters, buoyed by ace Felix Hernandez, who spun a five-hit shutout Monday, are 19-8 with a 2.74 ERA in the past 37 games. Since the All-Star break, the Mariners have the second-best ERA in the major leagues.
“Pitching, I don’t think that’s ever been a problem here,” Ackley said.
But hitting has been. The Mariners remain on pace to finish in the bottom five in the majors in runs scored for a fifth consecutive season. Lately, there has been improvement.
Diamond gave up a double to Ryan and walked Franklin Gutierrez with two outs in the third before Kyle Seager’s two-run double put the Mariners on the board. Seager leads the majors with 43 two-out RBI.
Ryan had three hits, matching his season high, and raised his batting average to .202.
“He’s at his best when he’s aggressive and lets the bat go,” Wedge said, adding: “When he just relaxes and let’s it go out there and just hits, he’s got a good swing.”
Iwakuma, who joined the rotation July 2, said through his interpreter he struggled to feel comfortable on the mound.
“I tried to fight it by myself. The most I could do was not give up any runs,” he said.
Twins second baseman Jamey Carroll called him “effectively wild.”
Seattle continues the series at Minnesota in a 5:10 p.m. game that will be televised on Root Sports. Left-hander Jason Vargas (13-8, 3.75 ERA) will start for the Mariners as right-hander Samuel Deduno (4-2, 4.24) takes the mound for the Twins.