Hisashi Iwakuma returning to Japan after 7 years with Mariners

Sep 11, 2018, 4:14 PM | Updated: 10:58 pm

After seven years with the Mariners that included an All-Star selection and the fifth no-hitter in team history, Hisashi Iwakuma is going back to his native Japan.

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Iwakuma, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since May 3, 2017, has been trying to work back from shoulder issues that have plagued him for the better part of two years. Despite recently appearing in two games on a rehab assignment with Single-A Everett, it was announced before Tuesday’s Mariners game against San Diego that the 37-year-old right-hander will try to resume his career where it started.

“Looking at the big picture, it’s been long process of rehab, and finally in this long tunnel, I’m starting to see light,” Iwakuma said through a translator on Tuesday. “And at this point, it’s unfortunate that I cannot come back as a Mariner. But Japan is my origin. It’s where I started my career and by saying that, I think it’s a good place to end my career too. With that said, I wanted to explore how much more I could do back in Japan and see if there any teams are interested in me.”

Iwakuma spent 11 seasons in Japan starting in 2001 pitching for Kintetsu and Rakuten, then made the jump to the MLB with Seattle in 2012. Despite initially being used as a reliever, when given the chance midway through his first season he proved to be a reliable member of the starting rotation.

Reliable soon became indispensable, as he earned All-Star honors and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award race in 2013, finishing 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He was strong No. 2 behind Félix Hernández in the Mariners’ rotation for the next two seasons, finishing with ERAs of 3.52 and 3.54 in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

While Iwakuma never fully returned to his All-Star form of 2013, for one day against Baltimore he was as good as he would ever be. In a day game on Aug. 12, 2015, Iwakuma threw a no-hitter at Safeco Field against the Baltimore Orioles, striking out seven and walking three in a 3-0 win.

In 2016, Iwakuma gave the Mariners much-needed dependability, going 16-12 and tying a career-high with 33 starts in a year that Mariners starting pitchers struggled to stay healthy.

The injury bug bit Iwakuma in 2017, however, and after just six starts he found his way on to the disabled list. He was never able to get healthy enough to return the Mariners last year despite multiple false starts, and after signing a minor-league deal prior to the 2018 season, it was more of the same.

Iwakuma spent his entire major league career with the Mariners, though he nearly went to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 2015 season. A three-year, $45 million deal was agreed upon between the two sides, but the Dodgers backed out after Iwakuma underwent a physical. He subsequently returned to Seattle, where he had two more productive seasons on the mound.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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