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King and Kuma on a roll for Mariners

By Shannon Drayer

It happens every year. At some point of the season I realize that I am taking Felix Hernandez for granted. Eight innings, five hits, no runs, no walks, seven strikeouts, making hitters look silly. Ho hum, that’s what Felix does.

It didn’t even hit me until Saturday morning when I was doing my reading. Spotlight on “King For Another Day.” with “Mariners’ Felix Hernandez off to historically dominant start.” This kind of notice this early in the season is not usual for Felix, or any Mariner for that matter. Thank goodness for that, or I might have gone another start without remembering to appreciate how good he is rather than take it for granted.

After limiting the Blue Jays to one earned run over 15 innings, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma rank third and fourth, respectively, in earned run average among American League starters. (AP)

How good has Felix been already this year? According to Elias (and thanks to Jeff Evans from Mariners baseball information for providing these numbers), through seven starts Felix is just the second pitcher in American League history to strike out at least 50 batters while allowing no more than 40 hits and seven walks. The only other pitcher accomplish that was Johan Santana in 2005.

Felix is off to a tremendous start.

Someone I am not taking for granted but someone who is being overlooked (or underlooked as Dustin Ackley put it in the pregame show) by the rest of the country is Hisashi Iwakuma. Another fine performance from him Saturday where he showed something I can’t remember seeing from him any time before — emotion on the hill.

A walk, a single and a ball lost in the sun by Ackley led to a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first. Two strikeouts later the Mariners were in the dugout up 1-0, but not before the normally-stoic-on-the-hill Iwakuma let out a little yell.

“Being able to come up with a good pitch in a tough situation was awesome,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki after the game.

Iwakuma lowered his ERA to 1.61 with the win and has limited the opposition to one or fewer runs in five of his seven starts. Those are crazy numbers.

The combination of Felix and Iwakuma is one that has been as close to lights out as imaginable, with the two combining to hold Oakland to one earned run on April 1-2, Detroit to one earned run in 14 innings April 17-18, Houston to two earned runs in 11 innings April 22-23, Anaheim to one earned run in 14 innings April 27-28, and Toronto to one earned run in 15 innings on Friday and Saturday. Teams cannot be looking forward to facing the Mariners’ 1-2 punch.

After Saturday’s game I asked Iwakuma what it meant to him to follow Felix. Did he try to equal or better him? What impact did following the King have on him?

“Everything in general,” he answered through Suzuki. “You see him pitch the day before I pitch and you try to imitate that. You see how he pitches his game. I don’t have the same kind of stuff, but you try and analyze that and then take advantage of it and that’s what I am trying to do. Just rolling with it.”

And what a roll the duo is on.

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