With the attention in the Mariners’ starting rotation over the offseason focused mostly on new faces and Felix Hernandez’s workouts, Hisashi Iwakuma has slipped under the radar. Judging by the fact that he was over a week early to the team’s spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz., he isn’t planning on keeping it that way.
Iwakuma may be nearing his 36th birthday (it’s on April 12), but he’s coming off a season in which he was hands down Seattle’s most consistent starter as the Mariners just missed out on a playoff berth. And even though he finished the campaign with a 4.12 ERA, the important part is that he delivered 24 outings of six innings or more, including 19 quality starts (10th in the American League), and from June 5 through Sept. 14 he was 12-7 with a 3.55 ERA. That stretch was particularly important considering it covered the majority of the nearly two months of action Hernandez missed with a calf injury.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said Wednesday that Iwakuma is doing all he can to make sure he can be just as reliable this season as he was in 2016.
“Kuma takes his offseason as serious as anybody. … I think he wants to show people that he can carry that workload,” Servais said before the team’s workout on the second day for pitchers and catchers in Peoria. “It’s hard for him, especially where he’s at in his career, and we got probably more out of him than we expected (last season), which is great. We certainly needed it, and he wants to back it up again this season.”
Iwakuma’s numbers took a hit late last year as he seemingly ran out of gas on his way to 199 innings, the second most he’d ever thrown in an MLB season, and Servais indicated that the Japan native may have been driven by that this offseason.
“I know he was disappointed in his last outing of the year. It wasn’t what we’d seen (earlier in the season),” Servais said. “But he really carried us, especially when Felix went down and we were struggling to get consistent innings out of our starters. He was our most consistent guy. I know Mel (pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.) appreciated it, I did, our bullpen did on the nights he was out there, but he did get a little fatigued at the end.”
The good news is that the Mariners appear more prepared this year to avoid a late season swoon from Iwakuma or other members of the rotation. Not only is the five-man unit more solified with Hernandez and Iwakuma backed by James Paxton, Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo, Seattle has built considerable depth behind the rotation with Ariel Miranda set to be in the bullpen, plus Chris Heston and Rob Whalen lined up further down the depth chart.
Not only does that give the M’s some good options if and when pitchers hit the disabled list, they might be more inclined to give some of the regular starters a spell to avoid fatigue as the season wears on by calling up another pitcher for a spot start.