Seattle Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma: A Legit #2 Starter
Everyone knows about Felix Hernandez. For the last decade-plus, he and Ichiro Suzuki have been the only reasons for Seattle Mariners fans to even bother watching their team. And with Ichiro now in New York with the Yankees, King Felix has become, from a casual fan’s perspective, not only the figurehead of the franchise but even the franchise itself. Owner of a Cy Young award (2010) and a perfect game, Hernandez is a top-level pitcher who has received very little help throughout his career.
But Hisashi Iwakuma is trying to change that. While the Mariners (31-39, 3rd in AL West) are still toiling in irrelevance, Iwakuma has been a nice, refreshing bright spot. In 15 starts, he has pitched to an impressive 7-2 record along with a sparkling 2.06 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. There is a certain advantage to pitching in spacious Safeco Field, but even after adjusting for that discrepancy, Iwakuma’s numbers would still look quite good.
Iwakuma, 32, spent the first 11 years of his career playing in Japan for the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Late in 2010, he was granted leave to pursue a career in the MLB. The Oakland Athletics won the bidding for him, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement. He was signed by the Mariners before the start of the 2012 season.
Iwakuma started out in Seattle’s bullpen. For a short time he even served as the closer, before Tom Wilhelmsen eventually took over that role. He was moved to the rotation around mid-season, and his first career start came on July 2 against the Baltimore Orioles. It was a no decision, but Iwakuma allowed 3 runs over 5 innings pitched, and Seattle won the game.
Ever since then, Iwakuma has had quite a bit of success as a starter. Many believe his age combined with his hot start to the season make him a perfect trade candidate for the Mariners. After all, the franchise is still a good ways away from contending again, and Iwakuma’s value and production are both as high right now as they will ever be.