After an injury-plagued season, Seattle is looking for Hisashi Iwakuma to perform at full capacity in 2016.
Former All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma has been apart of the Seattle program since 2012. Season after season, Iwakuma put up exceptional numbers earning him more money and more time in the Mariners clubhouse. The 2015 season posed many problems for Iwakuma as he was out for nearly 4 months with a strained lat and posted his highest ERA since coming to Seattle. Thought to be lost to the Dodgers, how will the newly signed Iwakuma benefit the Mariners this season?
Seattle fans geared up for another rough season in the bullpen, as it seemed Hisashi Iwakuma would be signing a new contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But after a questionable physical, LA backed out of the deal and Seattle stepped in, signing Iwakuma to a one-year contract. Now that Iwakuma is returning, Seattle will give teams a tough 1-2 punch to handle.
It’s hard to catch any of the spotlight with an guy like Felix Hernandez in your rotation. Despite having the second-best walk rate and 12th-best WAR of an American League starter the past three years, Iwakuma has a way of sneaking up on batters. Teams unlucky enough to draw appearances from Hernandez and Iwakuma in the same series will be hard pressed to squeeze out a win. The two All-Stars have created a bond in their time together and are always trying to improve one another.
“We’re very close teammates,” Iwakuma said of Hernandez. “He takes care of me, he looks after me, he’s always thinking about me, so that’s a great feeling to have.”
Despite Kuma’s most recent struggles against he Giants on Wednesday, suffering from poor fielding behind him, his injuries appear to be behind him and he should be in full swing come April and ready to lock in many more than 9 wins this season. On top of being a lights-out pitcher, Iwakuma has assimilated into a role model for the young arms, such as Taijuan Walker.
“He is always calm out there,” Walker said. “He gets in trouble, he doesn’t panic, he keeps the same mentality. Everything is just calm. Even when he was throwing his no-hitter, everything looked the same. You don’t ever know if he is in trouble or if he is throwing a no-hitter.”
The key this season is for Iwakuma to maintain his health. When this ace is operating at full capacity, he could rival the efficiency of the league’s best arms. Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais both understand the importance of keeping Iwakuma healthy, so don’t expect him to be going 8 innings deep every game. Also, don’t be surprised if Iwakuma is getting pulled from games early in the season. It’s not every day you get to have a second chance with a player like Iwakuma and the Mariners won’t be risky with it.
Is it too early to label Hisashi Iwakuma as a Cy Young Contender? Probably. But after the first few games, it will be apparent which Iwakuma has come to the mound this season.