Iwakuma sliding comfortably into No. 2 role

IwakumaHisashi Iwakuma gets the start today against the A’s, which means a day off from the rotation competition for the Mariners. Unlike last season, there are no questions surrounding Iwakuma this spring.

The 31-year-old has been outstanding all camp, the most-consistent pitcher in a Mariners uniform. Felix Hernandez obviously is the ace of the staff (news flash!), but Iwakuma has quietly slid into the No. 2 role in impressive fashion.

The trade of Jason Vargas opened that door and I kept hearing that Iwakuma wasn’t really a No. 2 starter, which of course is the same thing people used to say about Vargas. But Iwakuma was one of the premier starters in Japan for years and now that he’s fully healthy, he looks every bit the part this spring.

Iwakuma started preparing much earlier this offseason, knowing now what he’d be facing in the Major Leagues. He looks stronger physically and more comfortable mentally.

He’s getting hitters to pound the ball into the ground consistently with his sinker and has allowed just seven hits and no walks in 10 innings this spring with a 2.70 ERA. We’ll see how he fares today against the A’s, but so far, so good.

These are the same A’s the Mariners will face in their season-opening series on April 1-4 and Iwakuma figures to be on the mound for Game 2 of that series.

Here’s the Mariners lineup:

Michael Saunders RF
Casper Wells CF
Raul Ibanez DH
Michael Morse LF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero C
Dustin Ackley 2B
Robert Andino SS
Brad Miller 3B

Hisashi Iwakuma P

Also scheduled to pitch today are Oliver Perez, Lucas Luetge, Steven Pryor and Logan Bawcom.

Brandon Maurer will start tomorrow and is scheduled for five innings in a 7:05 p.m. game against the Giants in Peoria, while Joe Saunders will start a Minor League contest. Then the Mariners have Wednesday off, though Jeremy Bonderman will throw in a Minor League contest that day.

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