KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Six weeks into the season, Hisashi Iwakuma had one victory through eight starts and it was easy to wonder whether the Dodgers knew something last winter when they backed away from a tentative free-agent deal.
Fast forward to Friday: Iwakuma won for the eighth time in 10 starts when the Mariners held on for a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals. He has nine victories prior to the All-Star break for the first time in his career.
"Staying consistent with my routine helped me a lot," he said. "You can’t control the win or loss. All you can control is giving your team a chance to win. That’s all I’ve been trying to do."
In some ways, his performance has been similar. Iwakuma has a 4.15 ERA through his 10-game run after posting a 4.38 mark prior to his surge. But he provided a major boost by pitching at least six innings in nine of his last 10 starts.
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That sort of consistency offers a sharp contrast to other member of the Mariners’ rotation since a strained right calf muscle forced Felix Hernandez to the disabled list after a May 27 start against Minnesota.
In 40 games since Hernandez’s last start, the Mariners’ rotation produced only 19 starts of at least six innings: seven by Iwakuma; 12 by everyone else.
"He’s been huge for us," manager Scott Servais said. "You look at it, you see it and you’re watching it and you think, `How is he doing it?’ But he pitches. He really pitches.
"If you look at any one of his four pitches in a vacuum, they’re probably average. But when you put them all together, with his deception and his ability to make pitches, it plays up."
Iwakuma, 35, was a free agent after last season and, when the Mariners failed to guarantee a third year in a new deal, he looked elsewhere and eventually reached agreement with the Dodgers for $45 million over three years.
That deal fell apart after the Dodgers examined the results of Iwakuma’s medical examination. The decision baffled Iwakuma, who then reopened discussions with the Mariners — but with diminished negotiating leverage.
Iwakuma ultimately agreed to a deal that includes only one guaranteed year, for $12 million, but includes two vesting options, based on innings pitched, that can boost the three-year value to $44 million.
At this point, he needs to pitch another 47 2/3 innings over the rest of the season to guarantee a $14 million deal for 2017. Barring an injury or some other reversal, he should reach the threshold before the calendar hits September.
"Overall, my command has been better," he said. "My stuff has been working a lot better as well. I’m able to make pitches, and I’m able to go with my style — making guys chase and making guys put the ball in play."
ON THE MEND
Felix Hernandez is scheduled to pitch for four innings Sunday when he begins a minor-league rehabilitation assignment at Short-A Everett in a 4:05 p.m. game against Spokane (Rangers).
The AquaSox have already declared a sellout at 3,682-seat Everett Memorial Stadium.
Plans call for Hernandez to pitch July 15 at Triple-A Tacoma before rejoining the big-league rotation for a July 20 start against the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field.
Hernandez was 4-4 with a 2.86 ERA in 10 starts before a strained right calf muscle forced him to the disabled list after a May 27 start against Minnesota.
***Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush gave up two homers and three runs in two-thirds of an inning Friday when he began a rehab assignment at Everett in his ongoing recovery from tendinitis in his left shoulder biceps.
It was Furbush’s first game action since July 7, 2015.
***Right-hander Taijuan Walker is scheduled to undergo an examination Sunday by Dr. Bob Anderson, a foot-and-ankle specialist, in Charlotte, N.C. Walker is battling tendinitis in his right foot.
***Right-hander reliever Nick Vincent is tentatively scheduled to start a rehab assignment over the All-Star break in his recovery from a strained muscle in his middle back.
Vincent hasn’t pitched since June 26 but, barring setbacks, could return to active duty shortly after the break.
***Right-hander Ryan Cook, who hasn’t pitched this season, is scheduled to start his rehab assignment Sunday at Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League. He was diagnosed in spring training with a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.
***Right-handed reliever Tony Zych is making slow progress in his recovery from tendinitis in his rotator cuff. Club officials now say Zych isn’t likely to return prior to September. He last pitched on May 1.
Second baseman Robinson Cano is the seeded favorite Monday night in his upcoming match-up against Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton in the Home Run Derby — but he’s far from the betting favorite.
Stanton is a 13/4 favorite to win the tournament in odds posted by www.Bovada.lv, an online gaming service. Former Mariners first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo, now with Baltimore, is the second betting choice at 15/4.
Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, the brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, carries the longest odds at 9/1.
Trumbo is the top seed in the eight-player field for the showcase event, which takes place 5 p.m. at Petco Park in San Diego as part of the annual All-Star Week festivities. The All-Star Game is Tuesday.
Cano is a 7/1 pick to win a second Derby crown. He previously competed from 2011-13 as a member of the New York Yankees and won the 2011 title at Chase Field in Arizona.
But while Cano is the No. 4 seed in this year’s tournament, he is a 27/20 first-round underdog to fifth-seeded Stanton’s 4/7 odds. (Additionally, Cano is a plus-135 bet, while Stanton is a minus-175.)
The Cano/Stanton winner will face the Trumbo/Seager winner in the semifinals.
Other first-round match-ups: Cincinnati left fielder Adam Duvall vs. San Diego first baseman Wil Myers; and Chicago White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier, the defending champion, vs. Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.
Bovada’s odds for all players: Stanton 13/4, Trumbo 15/4, Myers 6/1, Frazier 6/1, Cano 7/1, Duvall 7/1, Gonzalez 15/2 and Seager 9/1.
Peoria outfielder Gareth Morgan was picked as the Canadian Baseball Network co-minor league player of the week after going 10-for-17 in the Arizona Rookie League before going hitless in his last two games.
Morgan, 20, shared the award with Cole Bauml, and outfielder in the Detroit system. The Canadian Baseball Network recognizes the top player(s) each week among the Canadians playing in the minor leagues.
Previous winners include Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill and left-hander James Paxton at Triple-A Tacoma prior to his recall to the big-league club.
The Mariners selected Morgan in the second round of the 2014 draft.
***Jackson swept a double-header Friday at Tennessee (Cubs) and improved to 54-30. That’s notable because the Generals have now topped their victory total from last season, when they finished 53-84.
It was 15 years ago Sunday — July 10, 2001 — that Safeco Field served as host for the All-Star Game. The Mariners had eight players on the American League roster along with manager Lou Piniella serving as a coach.
The American League won 4-1 with Mariners right-hander Freddy Garcia getting the victory after pitching a scoreless third inning. Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki got the save with a scoreless ninth inning.
Baltimore shortstop Cal Ripken, in his 21st and final season, was picked as the game’s most valuable player after going 1-for-2 with a two-run homer.
Ripken was voted into the starting lineup as the third baseman, but former Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez, then with Texas, switched positions with Ripken before the first pitch.
Former Mariners left-hander Randy Johnson, then with Arizona, started for the National League and pitched two scoreless innings. Current Mariners pitching coach Mike Hampton, then with Colorado, gave up one run in the fifth inning.
All eight Mariners played.
Four players were the starting lineup. Ichiro Suzuki batted leadoff and started in center field before moving to right. The others were second baseman Bret Boone, first baseman John Olerud and designated hitter Edgar Martinez.
Outfielder Mike Cameron entered the game as a reserve, and reliever Jeff Nelson pitched a scoreless seventh inning.
The Mariners conclude their pre-break schedule at 11:15 a.m. Pacific time time with the last of four games against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery (2-3 with a 2.15 ERA) will make a spot start in place of injured right-hander Taijuan Walker. Montgomery worked four scoreless innings last Tuesday when Walker had to leave a start at Houston.
Kansas City will start right-handed swingman Dillon Gee (3-2, 4.05). He has made four starts this season among his 17 appearances. He is in his first season with the Royals after six years with the New York Mets.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners