Well, now, how might an in-form Hisashi Iwakuma affect the chances for the Seattle Mariners to mount a charge after the All-Star break?
That’s worth pondering after Iwakuma weathered a shaky first inning Saturday night before settling into dominant form in a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
“It’s been a tough year so far,” he said, “but I need to make up for what I’ve lost. The last couple of starts, I wasn’t able to contribute. From here on, I’d like to contribute.”
This was Iwakuma at his best, too.
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An efficient iron fist in a velvet glove; something not really seen since the middle of last August. And he did it against an Angels’ club that could have moved atop the American League West by winning.
“That as close as I’ve seen him to his 2013 form,” Seattle catcher Mike Zunino said. “Keeping the ball down. Having the sinker. Having the split to go with it. He threw the slider, the curveball. Everything was great today.”
Iwakuma gave up two singles in the first inning before escaping from a bases-loaded jam with no outs. He permitted just two base runners, on a walk and a single, over the next seven innings.
Mark Lowe closed out the victory by pitching a scoreless ninth.
Iwakuma’s victory was his first of the season, although it came in just his fifth start. He spent more than two months on the disabled list because of a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.
“I think his stuff picked up a little as the game went on,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think his velocity picked up, he had that good (sinker) going down into our right-handed swings as the game progressed.”
The Mariners had an encouraging night at the plate against Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson, a longtime nemesis.
Wilson (7-7) entered the game at 16-8 with a 3.33 ERA against the Mariners in 60 career appearances, including 23 starts. That includes an 8-4 record and 2.84 ERA in 31 games at Safeco.
Further, Wilson had allowed just three earned runs over 28 innings in his four previous starts against the Mariners.
Wilson exited with two outs in the seventh. He wasn’t bad; he gave up three runs and five hits and four walks. He struck out five.
“I thought we had very professional at-bats when we needed them,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Tonight, the offense showed what they’re capable of (doing) when their approach is good.”
Once Wilson departed, the Mariners jumped on relievers Mike Morin and Jose Alvarez for two, two-out insurance runs.
Nelson Cruz greeted Morin with a double into the left-center gap and, after an intentional walk to Kyle Seager, Mark Trumbo delivered his second two-out RBI single of the game.
Alvarez replaced Morin and surrendered a bloop single to Logan Morrison for the game’s final run.
Iwakuma (1-1) was shaky at the start, though.
He began the first inning by losing Johnny Giavotella to an eight-pitch walk. Kole Calhoun followed with a grounder through the right side that moved Giavotella to second.
Mike Trout’s bloop single into right loaded the bases with no outs.
Somehow, Iwakuma escaped with no damage.
First, he struck out Albert Pujols. After Erick Aybar’s grounder to third turned into a force at home, Cruz made a diving catch on David Freese’s liner into the right-center gap.
“That was a game-changer,” Iwakuma said. “It made me feel a lot better. It gave us the momentum.”
Three runs likely would have scored if the ball got past Cruz.
“It was instinct,” Cruz said. “You see it, and you go for it. I also knew (Austin) Jackson was going to be behind me.”
The Mariners then cashed in a similar chance in the second inning after singles by Cruz and Seager put runners at first and second with no outs. Trumbo battled back from an 0-2 hole for a walk that loaded the bases.
Wilson forced in a run by walking Jesus Montero, and Brad Miller followed with a sacrifice fly to center for a 2-0 lead. The opportunity for a bigger inning slipped away when Mike Zunino and Jackson flied out.
The Mariners added another run in the third inning after Cruz drew a two-out walk. Seager and Trumbo followed with singles for a 3-0 lead.
By then, Iwakuma was locked in and rolling. He retired the last 13 batters he faced.
“If we want to make a run in the second half,” Cruz said, “we need to count on him. It was nice to see him perform the way he did today.”
SUNDAY: L.A. Angels (LHP Andrew Heaney: 2-0, 1.77 ERA) at Seattle (RHP Taijuan Walker: 7-6, 4.53 ERA), 1:10 p.m. Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM