Iwakuma hopefully back on line

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comJuly 14, 2013 

Hisashi Iwakuma will step on the mound at Safeco Field on Sunday and try to rediscover all the reasons that made him an All-Star.

The Mariners right-hander was selected by his fellow players, along with teammate Felix Hernandez, to pitch in Tuesday’s midsummer classic at Citi Field in New York.

In his past five outings, Iwakuma has been anything but All-Star material. In those games, he is 0-3 with a 6.83 earned-run average. In 29 innings, he has given up 22 runs on 33 hits with a whopping 10 homers. For the season, he has given up 20 home runs – third most by

a pitcher in the American League.

So what’s the problem?

Is it fatigue?

“There’s no reason for him to be fatigued,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We are halfway through the season. He’s a guy we normally keep under 100 pitches and we’ve given (him) some extra days. He’s strong.”

For Iwakuma, it’s simple.

“For the most part, I’m missing location-wise,” Iwakuma said through his translator Antony Suzuki. “My pitches are catching too much of the fat part of the plate. I have some time to make adjustments.”

As a pitcher who relies on location more than velocity, Iwakuma needs to have command over control. Control is throwing strikes. Command is throwing strikes in the right spot.

Early in the season, his command was impeccable as most of his pitches stayed in the bottom half of the strike zone and on the corners of the plate. Hitters can’t do much with pitches located there.

“I’m just having a hard time locating in my last couple starts,” Iwakuma said. “Everything has been a little up as you can tell.”

And when he’s up, he gets hit.

“When he’s made a mistake, it’s hurt him,” Wedge said. “He just has to get back on line.”

When Iwakuma is on line, he’s quite deserving of that All-Star nomination by his fellow players.

Over his first 14 starts, Iwakuma was 7-1 with a 1.79 ERA. He struck out 87 batters in 95 innings with just 14 walks.

Because he pitches on Sunday, he won’t be able to throw in the All-Star Game. American League manager Jim Leyland has said he will not pitch any pitcher that started on Sunday.

“It’s unfortunate not to be able to pitch, but at the same time you want to enjoy every moment of being an All-Star, enjoy the atmosphere with all these elite players,” Iwakuma said. “There’s a lot to learn. It’s a special event. We have all the guys with the best talent that form a team, so that’s what you look forward to. There’s a lot you can learn from them, and hopefully take advantage of that opportunity.”

But for the Mariners, a good outing from Iwakuma on Sunday will be more important than any exhibition game.

Wedge hopes, and believes, he will see the Iwakuma that earned that All-Star bid.

“He’s been so consistent,” Wedge said. “He handles everything. He’s out there for the right reasons and that’s giving us a chance to win.”

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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