No no-hitter on Tuesday for Hisashi Iwakuma, but he delivered seven strong innings for the Seattle Mariners on a sweltering night in a 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park.
That meant a bullpen still recovering from a weekend shellacking in Boston only needed to cover two innings. Danny Farquhar and Carson Smith did so.
“When your starter goes out and gives you seven,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said, “you can match up and do the things you want to do. The bullpen looked good tonight.”
The Mariners struck for three runs in the first inning against Texas starter Chi Chi Gonzalez before going into shutdown mode. Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back doubles before Seth Smith homered.
Iwakuma (5-2) and the bullpen made it stand up.
After missing 11 weeks because of a strained back muscle, Iwakuma appears in top form; he is 5-1 with a 2.48 ERA in his past eight starts.
“It’s a frustrating at-bat against him,” Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland said. “He throws however many pitches he throws. And then it’s in every spot.
“He goes up and down, in and out, up and in, down and away, up and away. He’s all over the place with everything, but everything is right on the edge of the zone.”
Iwakuma carried a 3-1 lead into the seventh but walked Mitch Moreland to start the inning. Elvis Andrus’ grounder to short resulted in a force at second, but Rougned Odor’s grounder into center put runners at first and third.
Bobby Wilson’s sacrifice fly made it a one-run game. The inning ended when Odor was thrown out at second on an attempted steal.
That was it for Iwakuma in his first start since his no-hitter on Aug. 12 against Baltimore: seven innings, two runs, five hits, one walk and six strikeouts in a 99-pitch performance.
“I felt all right today,” said Iwakuma, who threw 118 and 116 pitches in his two previous outings. “I tried to keep the ball down in the zone so they would make early contact.”
Farquhar replaced Iwakuma to start the eighth and worked a one-two-three inning. Smith closed it out against the middle of the Rangers’ order: Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Moreland.
It represented a nice bounce-back effort by Smith, who blew a two-run lead Sunday in the ninth inning at Boston before the Mariners won in 12 innings.
“It was a struggle Sunday,” Smith said. “Something I’ve got to learn from and get better from. Today, I felt like I did that.”
The Mariners staked Iwakuma to a 3-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.
Seager and Cruz produced the first run with successive one-out doubles. Cruz’s double extended his career-best streak of reaching base safely to 29 games.
Gonzalez (2-5) struck out Robinson Cano, but Seth Smith drove a two-out homer to right field. Gonzalez didn’t allow another run in his six innings but left trailing 3-1.
Iwakuma’s bid for a second consecutive no-hitter ended when Shin-Soo Choo lined a one-out single in the first inning. Iwakuma said: “Nothing came to mind. I just threw a split down, and he put a good swing on it.”
The chance for a second consecutive shutout ended on Odor’s two-out homer in the second.
The Mariners missed a chance to extend their lead in the fifth after Ketel Marte reached second on a leadoff single and an error.
A diving play by Odor at second took an RBI single away from Seager but moved Marte to third. Cruz struck out on three pitches, and Cano hit a routine grounder to first.
The back-breaker was Cruz’s strikeout. He swung at three pitches off the plate and, as he walked back to the dugout, said to himself: “I was wondering, ‘What the (heck) am I doing?’ I guess it’s part of baseball.”
It didn’t seem to matter because Iwakuma was in a groove. He retired 12 in a row before Fielder lined a two-out single into the right-field corner in the sixth inning.
“He’s been challenging for us,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “He’s got a lot of things going on. Multiple pitches for strikes. Pitches in well. Pitches away well. He commands the ball up when he needs to.
“He’s a quality pitcher. We couldn’t find a rhythm. It seemed like any time we were going to try to mount a challenge against him, he made some pitches. He’s in command of his pitches. You saw it from pitch one.”