By Jim Moore
At this point, it’s a given that Hisashi Iwakuma will be an American League All-Star. But I’d argue that he should be the AL’s starter as well.
How cool would that be? When he was signed by the Mariners in January of 2012, The Seattle Times ran a poll asking readers for their thoughts on the Iwakuma acquisition. Forty-eight percent said they liked the deal, narrowly edging the 44 percent who said they were lukewarm about it.
If that poll were held today, no one would like the deal; 100 percent would love it.
It’s hard to believe that the Japanese right-hander was an afterthought when the Mariners broke camp last year. He didn’t stir from the bullpen until the Mariners’ 15th game, the last player to see action.
Hisashi Iwakuma, ranked second among American League starters in ERA and first in WHIP, has come a long way since starting last season in the Mariners’ bullpen. (AP)
Iwakuma did not pitch in 2011 because of a shoulder injury, and the Mariners were giving him more time to recover.
When he did make his infrequent relief appearances, Iwakuma didn’t look anything like the pitcher he is now. He didn’t start a game until early July of last season, lowering his ERA from 5.13 to 3.16 the rest of the way.
And as you know, he’s been sensational this year with a 6-1 record, 1.94 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP. He has struck out 79 batters and walked only 13. In seven of his 13 starts, he has not issued a single walk.
I was skeptical when the Mariners signed him to a two-year, $14 million contract in the offseason, but he looks underpaid now. He’s been better than Felix Hernandez, who’s making $25 million a year.
Iwakuma will take a 21 2/3-inning scoreless streak into his next start Monday night against the Astros at Safeco Field.
You’ve got to like his chances in that game, facing the lowly Astros and considering that Iwakuma is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA and 0.55 WHIP in his starts at Safeco Field this year.
Now then, his numbers aren’t quite good enough yet to be the AL starter in the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York on July 16. But they will be by the time July 16 rolls around.
In terms of record and ERA, Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox is ahead of Iwakuma at 8-0 and 1.62. But he’s got a higher WHIP at 1.02 and has more than doubled the number of walks given up by Iwakuma with 28.
In craps, I like to bet on the come, and that’s what I’m doing here – expecting Iwakuma to be better in his next seven starts before the All-Star Game than Buchholz will be in his.
Buchholz was 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA last year, suggesting a return to earth in the coming weeks. Nothing of the sort is expected from Iwakuma.
It’s probably pathetic to root against another pitcher just so Iwakuma can be the starter in an All-Star Game, but that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow when Buchholz faces the Angels at Fenway Park.
The other would-be contenders for the AL start are Alex Cobb of Tampa Bay at 6-2 and 2.39 and Chris Sale of the White Sox at 5-3 and 2.44. They are the only other AL pitchers in the top 14 of the MLB’s top ERAs. Felix checks in at No. 5 at 2.58.
I’ll keep my eye on Sale, but I’m not worried about Cobb, who was 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA last year.
There’s only problem that might prevent Iwakuma from starting the All-Star Game for the American League. As it sits right now, he’s scheduled to start against the Angels on July 14, the Mariners’ final game before the All-Star break.
That’s just two days before the game itself. Surely with off-days, something can be done to let him face the Angels on July 12 or 13 so he can be the starter in the All-Star Game.