Every fifth day, Hisashi Iwakuma shows up on the mound, ready to work, arriving as scheduled like my local mail carrier That hasn’t always been the case. His seasons in 2014-15 were both shortened by injury. That history is what led the Dodgers to have second thoughts about signing him in the off-season and made him available to the M’s.
That doesn’t mean every outing is perfect. Like the mail, sometimes there are flaws in his game. Sometimes my mail is mangled, sometimes it’s late. There are games when Iwakuma doesn’t have his best stuff. He’s had some short outings, and he’s had some wretched starts, as all pitchers do. His July 29 outing against the Cubs was Iwakuma’s shortest of the year, lasting only three innings while allowing 8 hits and 5 runs. But, in his 22 starts, ‘Kuma has averaged just over 6 innings per game.
Despite occasional glitches, Iwakuma shows up for each scheduled start, throwing his mix of breaking balls and cutters to both sides of the plate, fastballs at the top of the strike zone, making batters look as foolish as a guy throwing 88 mph can. Yes, sometimes we have to hide our eyes when he makes a mistake, and David Ortiz (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) begins calculating his air miles, as Big Papi did on a shot off ‘Kuma on June 17th in Boston. Iwakuma has allowed 20 dingers so far in 2016.
Last night was no different. Iwakuma went 7.1 innings, allowed 5 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks and struck out 7 against the visiting Red Sox. Mariner batters supported him with three solo home runs by Nelson Cruz, Mike Zunino, and Adam Lind. M’s hitters provided only one other hit off Boston starter Rick Porcello, a single by Mike Zunino leading off the 8th inning. Iwakuma left the game after allowing a single to Anthony Benintendi, having thrown a workmanlike 97 pitches.
Iwakuma left the drama to righty reliever Drew Storen and new closer Edwin Diaz. Storen came in and quickly gave up a single to Mookie Betts. Though he got Brock Holt to hit a popup, the next batter, Xander Bogaerts hit a titanic fly ball that left fielder Nori Aoki caught on the warning track. I thought it was out of the yard, and it was “here we go again” time.
Diaz entered the game in the ninth inning in his second game as M’s closer-designee. He looked magnificent striking out the dangerous Ortiz. But then he seemed to have a little melt-down out there. He allowed a single to Jackie Bradley, Jr., hit the next batter, Aaron Hill and wild pitched them both into scoring position with one out. Facing the tying run got Travis Shaw and Sandy Leon to ground out, allowing one run to score. M’s win 3-1.
Two quick observations. Iwakuma, without question is the Mariners best starting pitcher at this moment. He’s made all of his starts, has been relatively consistent, and though he’s had his struggles with home runs, he’s improved as the season has progressed. He was last night’s player of the game, without question. Diaz, though he muddled through the 9th inning, did in fact muddle through it. Closing is a tough job. We like to think a closer comes in, gets his three outs and that’s it. News for you, Mariano Rivera was a mortal and blew saves. Every year. Smyth’s Maxim: Everybody can close, until they can’t. Right now, Diaz can.
Last game of this series tonight with new pitcher Ariel Miranda on the mound for the Mariners. Better watch. Go M’s