They have won and they have lost over their first 12 games of 2012 and the Seattle Mariners have done both without a single pitch from Hisashi Iwakuma.
Signed in the off-season as a free agent starting pitcher, Iwakuma went 1-0 with a 3.60 earned run average in the Cactus League and was demoted to the bullpen, where his role was long relief. Now two weeks into the season, that role has become no relief.
“We’re well aware of the situation,” pitching coach Carl Willis said tonight. “When we had an 8-1 lead (Tuesday), I was thinking six or seven innings from Kevin Millwood, a couple from Iwakuma and we finish using two pitchers. “It didn’t work out that way.”
In the ninth inning, trailng 9-8 to Cleveland, the Mariners put the tying run on third base, and Iwakuma’s name came up once again, Willis said. “If we tie it there, Brandon League goes in, but after that, it would have been Iwakuma,” he said.
That didn’t happen, either. In fact, Iwakuma has rarely even warmed up during a game this season.
“He’s never pitched out of the bullpen, so we don’t want to bring him in mid-ininng,” Willis said. “He’s been throwing a bullpen session every three days, and his particular program has him throwing a lot, anyway, so that’s not a problem.”
What’s stopped him, then?
“This happens during the course of a season to long relievers,” manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s just in this case, it’s at the beginning of the season and more noticeable. We work off the game.”
With starting pitchers getting deeper into games – or being in games when they leave – Wedge has been hesitant to call upon Iwakuma. No one knows when that will change, but Willis said Iwakuma has been ‘made aware’ of his role and the situation he finds himself in.