Pick your preferred metric, and it’s likely that Mariners right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma matches up reasonably well against the best pitchers in baseball.
Put him in a National League park and Iwakuma has never surrendered a run. He worked eight innings in a 5-2 victory Tuesday over the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I looked up in the eighth inning,” Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said, “and he hadn’t even thrown 20 balls yet. He throws strikes with all of his pitches. He gets swings-and-misses with all of his pitches.
“He works quickly … He’s everything you can ask for.”
Yes, it’s a small sample size. Just three starts, but Iwakuma’s scoreless streak is at 22 innings and counting. A little something to keep in mind if the Mariners are still playing in late October.
The Mariners didn’t muster a lot of punch against Phillies starter A.J. Burnett, but they cashed two walks in the first inning and got a homer from Seager on a 3-0 pitch in the sixth.
Mike Zunino delivered the knockout punch with a two-run, two-out single through the left side in the eighth inning. That finished Burnett (6-14), who gave up five runs and six hits in 72/3 innings.
Iwakuma (12-6) lowered his ERA to 2.57 and finished with 11 strikeouts, a season high and which marked the fourth time in his career that he’s reached double digits. He also did it on July 7, striking out 10 in a 2-0 victory over Minnesota.
“I was just being aggressive in going after the hitters,” Iwakuma said, “and that worked. It’s a small ballpark. You have to be very conscious about the situation. That said, you want to keep the ball down in the zone.”
The Phillies avoided the shutout by scoring twice in what turned into an anxious ninth inning against Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina before Fernando Rodney stranded two runners for his 36th save in 39 chances.
“It was a good lesson learned,” Zunino said, “that you can’t sleep on any type of lead. Only a couple of swings, in a ballpark like this where the ball travels, you can’t take any chances.”
The victory ensured the Mariners remain tied with Detroit in the race for the American League’s final wild-card spot. The Tigers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-6 in 11 innings, on Tuesday.
Burnett started the game with four-pitch walks to Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley, and both turned into runs.
Jackson stole second with Ackley at the plate. After Ackley walked, the two executed a double steal. Jackson scored on Robinson Cano’s slow hopper to second.
Burnett struck out Seager, but Logan Morrison’s slow grounder up the middle scooted past second baseman Chase Utley for an RBI single and a 2-0 lead.
“His breaking ball is really good,” Morrison said. “He just wasn’t locating well early, and we were able to take advantage. Mine found a hole. I didn’t hit it particularly hard.”
Jackson is the Mariners’ first leadoff hitter to steal two bases in the first inning since Ichiro Suzuki on July 22, 2011 in a 7-4 loss at Boston.
Iwakuma gave up a one-out double in the fourth inning to Ryan Howard, a moonshot to left-center field, but kept the Phillies off the board by striking out Marlon Byrd and Domonic Brown.
The Mariners wasted a one-out double by Jackson in the fifth when Ackley and Cano grounded out to second.
But Seager opened the sixth by tattooing a 3-0 fastball for a homer and a 3-0 lead. It was his 19th of the season, which moved him back into sole possession of the club lead.
“You kind of are (going for the homer in that situation),” Seager said. “It’s definitely an aggressive approach. You’re looking for something you can drive.”
The Mariners pushed their lead to 5-0 in the eighth after Burnett began the inning by hitting Cano, who then stole second. It was Cano’s 10th steal; he never had more than eight in his nine years in New York.
Seager struck out, but Morrison walked. The runners moved to second and third on Endy Chavez’s grounder to first before Zunino grounded a two-run single through the left side.
“I got to two strikes,” Zunino said, “and I wanted to be on time for the fastball. I knew he had a good curveball, but I had to base everything off that fastball.
“I was able to get one and hit it hard enough to get it through the hole over there.”
Those turned into big runs. Furbush got two quick outs in the ninth before surrendering a walk. Medina failed to retire any of the next three hitters before the Mariners summoned Rodney.
Iwakuma insisted he was never worried as he watched from the clubhouse.
“We have a strong belief in our bullpen,” he said, “so I was able to watch the TV very calmly.”