BY John Hickey 10:30AM 04/20/2012

Hickey: When will Mariners get in Iwakuma?

Japanese import is the only player on an MLB roster yet to play this season; Iwakuma has never pitched in long relief and Wedge says he is waiting for right time.

Hisashi Iwakuma gave up six runs and 10 hits in four innings in an exhibition game in Tokyo, and that seemed enough for the Mariners./ Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

This is not the way Hisashi Iwakuma pictured his first month in Seattle.

Not even close.

How could it be? One of the top pitchers in Japan the last few seasons and a 21-4 performer in 2008 with Rakuten, Iwakuma was taken by the Oakland A’s as a posted player after the 2010 season, but the two sides couldn’t cut a deal.

That meant Iwakuma was available as a free agent following the 2011 season. He signed with the Mariners. With Ichiro Suzuki a fixture, Munenori Kawasaki also making the jump across the Pacific and the Mariners in need of starting pitching, the set-up for Iwakuma in Seattle couldn’t have looked more picturesque.

Cut to April 20. Iwakuma hasn’t pitched. Including spring training, he hasn’t pitched competitively since April 2, and had a bad outing in an exhibition gme in Tokyo. He didn’t grab one of the five spots in the starting rotation. Instead he’s the long man in the bullpen, a role the Mariners haven’t needed filled.

Felix Hernandez threw another splendid eight innings Thursday —  even though he had a no-decision after closer Brandon League blew a save in a 2-1 loss to Cleveland — so the prospects for Iwakuma to get the feel of an MLB game were as gloomy as ever.

Manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis talk about wanting to get Iwakuma a soft landing – coming into a game to start an inning with the outcome not in the balance.

But that time seems to have come and gone, and Iwakuma sits and waits.

Willis was watching the Mariners score six runs in the fourth inning Tuesday, and he allowed himself to think the time was upon Iwakuma. Seattle built the lead to 8-1, but Tuesday wasn’t the day after all.

“I was thinking to myself this is the perfect spot for Iwakuma,” Willis said after the game, a 9-8 loss to Cleveland. “We can have Millwood get his five (innings) and have Iwakuma finish it out.”

If Millwood had held up his end, it would have worked. But by the time the fifth inning was over, Millwood was out of the game and the 8-1 lead dissolved to 8-7. Instead of Iwakuma, Erasmo Ramirez got the call.

“I know it’s frustrating for him; he wants to get into that first game,” Willis said. “It’s frustrating for us (Willis and Wedge), too, because we want to find the right spot for his first appearance.

“He hasn’t pitched in relief before. For that first game, we don’t want to bring him in with men on. We’d like to give him the chance to pitch a clean inning.”

Part of the complication is that the rotation has been getting the club into the seventh inning with remarkable consistency. In the first 13 games, the starters have thrown at least 6.1 innings 10 times.

Frankly, the Mariners may not trust him in anything but a blowout; that’s harsh, but one way a team shows its trust is by giving him work. Iwakuma is the only player in the big leagues who has been on the roster since opening day who hasn’t played.

“It’s just one of those things,” Wedge said. “It happens from time to time through the course of a season. It just happens this time, it’s the beginning of the season.

“You keep hanging on to your long guy for that next day, and that’s what we’ve been doing. That’s the role he’s in. We definitely want to try and get him in there. Multiple times we’ve tried to do it, and it just didn’t work out. You have to work off the baseball game. It’ll happen; we’ll get him in there, we just haven’t been able to do it yet.”

Iwakuma has warmed up just once. When will the second warmup come? Iwakuma would surely like to know as much as anyone.


  • OffTheLows

    I believe in regards to the booth review that simultaneous possession isn’t reviewable, similar to a fumble and who gets first possession, and the guys upstairs could only review if the ball touched the ground and the official on the field had the final say, albeit the wrong say.

  • Hammtime

    Love the clown analogy Art! As a Hawks fan, i’ll take the win but feel embarrassed to do so. Green Bay got robbed at the end.
    Goodell is quickly challenging David Stern as the most hated commissioner in pro sports!

  • JimC

    Mr. Tate: Drinks are on me.

    • art thiel

      How about a drink for a sportswriter whose life is turning hour by hour on one play?

  • Obi-jonKenobi

    As a long-suffering Seattle Seahawks fan/sportswriter, I think Art is suffering a little winners guilt here.

    First, on the final play, both players initially touched the ball at the same time. Jennings had better body position and had both hands on the ball while Tate didn’t have as good a grip but he did have a grip and he maintained that hold the entire play. Yeah, close call for sure but I can see why the REGULAR replay officials made the call they did.

    Second, what about the bad calls that gave Green Bay their touchdown? As Art does admit, it would take a Google algorithm to recover all the bad calls and the non-calls which affected both teams and the outcome. Take away the phantom first down inside the Seattle two yard line and the Seahawks could have won the game with a field goal.

    • artthiel

      As I mentioned in the comments thread elsewhere, you can pick any of a couple of dozen bad calls and unravel this threadbare game. No winner’s guilt, just a sports journalist’s disdain for cheapening an industry once held in some regard in some quarters.

      • Obi-jonKenobi

        Yes, bad calls as well as bad non-calls BUT, ironically, the final play that you seem to disagree with in my opinion was one of the BETTER controversial calls.

        Yes, it was a close call and, yes, Tate shoved a GB player out of the way and that wasn’t called, but Tate had a share of possession all the way to the ground. They hit the ground with both holding the ball and Tate finally even wrestled the ball away. Tie goes to the offense and that’s what the replay officials confirmed. And, it was reviewed by the REGULAR replay officials, NOT replacement refs and was CONFIRMED again today by NFL league officials.

        So, are you HELPING fuel the controversy and maybe “cheapen” the industry further by not recognizing that the poor, abused replacement refs actually got this one right?

        • art thiel

          Which official are you talking about? The one who called it a TD, or one who called it off? Or were you talking about the top official, Larry Elliott, who failed to follow protocol and talk with the officials about the call before responding to the replay booth? No, Obi, they didn’t get this one right.

          • Obi-jonKenobi

            Well, leaving aside the initial mixed signal and protocol irregularity (I know that’s asking a lot), let’s skip over the letter of the law and the clown-car process and go for the spirit of the law; was justice done with the final decision that both receivers shared possession and thus the offense (Tate) won? The “co-possession” may have been 60/40 but Tate still had some degree of possession, did he not? And, was he not in co-possession from almost the instant of initial contact until they both hit the ground?

            If that is the case, then how is this the wrong call?

  • Matt712

    Any Seahawks fan who wants to see this team get more national respect cannot possibly like the way this game ended (whether you agree with the call or not). Personally, I would rather have sent the Packers home with the win, battered and bloodied, and knowing that it was the Seahawks who got robbed on several calls.

    • art thiel

      Noble position, and if the the outcome were reversed, I’m sure two or three Packers fans would take the high road too.

  • Sloppy Joe

    The 1972 Russian Olympic Basketball team couldn’t believe the final score of this game. Aleksandr Belov said the final call was bogus.

    • art thiel

      At least the Russians had the decency to buy off the officials. No need for renegade incompetency.

  • LeonRussel

    Typical pro-union column by union sympathizer Art Thiel, who helped put the P.I. out of business by supporting striking union employees. How’s your new gig working out for you, Art? Making lots of money on this little website? Are you paying Steve Rudman union wages for his work? I’m sure you are. I notice many of the writers who originally contributed to this webiste no longer do so. Couldn’t be because you weren’t paying them a living wage, could it?

    The final call of last night’s game was a judgment call which could have gone either way. The play-by-play guy called it a “simultaneous catch” during the live play, so he agreed with the referee. Jugdment calls are always going to be controversial. It appeared to me that both players each had both hands on the ball. How can Art Thiel state categorically that this was not a simultaneous catch?

    But, the main point is that even Thiel called it a great game, even with replacement referees. Certainly was exciting enough.
    Thiel’s unwarranted criticism of the referees is just Thiel taking the union’s side in a labor dispute, just like Thiel took the union’s side in the labor dispute begtween unions and two local papers several years ago, which contributed to the P.I. going out of business. Nice work, Thiel.

    All officials in every sport blow calls in every game. This is a given. When you watch major league baseball games, about one out of every 4 or 5 pitches is incorrectly called a ball or strike by the umpire. Close plays at first base are routinely called wrong, including one obvious missed call this year that cost a pitcher a no-hitter. That’s the way it goes.

    I hope the NFL comes out with a statement after next week’s games that these officials will work the remainder of the season, and the they are not going to change referees after 1/4 of the season has been played. Then there will be nothing to be gained by pro-union writers and commentators to continually make officiating the focus of their stories, and can get back to writing about the play on the field.

    The Green Bay defensive back could have batted the ball out of the endzone, which is what he should have done, instead of going for the glory of an interception. Tate made a good play by getting both his hands on the ball, and the referee gave Tate the call. Not a blown call. Not the wrong call. Just a judgment call that had to be made in real time whithout benefit of slow-motion replay.

    You know that if the call had gone the other way, Tate and Pete Carroll would have been screaming bloody murder that they were robbed. Referees can’t win in that situation. When a call could go either way — as many calls can — whoever comes out on the losing end is going to be screaming that it was a bad call.
    Watch the replay here:–nfl.html;_ylt=Al7rjqKl4QL38aBPE9QwB9g5nYcB;_ylu=X3oDMTQ0YWEyNzBpBG1pdANGRUFUVVJFRCBNZWdhdHJvbiBTUE9SVFMgRlAEcGtnA2E5NTU4ZjMxLTA3MjQtMTFlMi1iZGNkLTk4OWJmODM5MjRlNwRwb3MDMQRzZWMDbWVnYXRyb24EdmVyA2FjMzY2ODAzLTA3MjQtMTFlMi1iZWZmLWVjNDBlOTM1NzQ3Yw–;_ylg=X3oDMTFpNzk0NjhtBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANob21lBHB0A3NlY3Rpb25z;_ylv=3

    You will hear the play-by-play guy call it a “simultaneous catch” during the live play. So, the play-by-play guy agreed with the referee.
    But, Art Thiel knows better. Would you feel the same way, Art, if the “regular” referees had made exactly the same call?

    • art thiel

      So as long as excitement is your only criterion, Leon, how about we put a topless Kim Kardashian as a replacement ref?

      • LeonRussel

        You are the one who called it a great game: “Ah. The game. Splendid affair. The Seahawks defense in the first half knocked the snot out of all-world quarterback Aaron Rodgers (eight sacks, one shy of the NFL record), who came back in the second to lead drives that produced two field goals and a touchdown to take a 12-7 lead.”
        So, what exactly is the problem, other than you don’t understand the rule of “simultaneous” catch, and you are trying to pressure the NFL to cave in to the referee’s union? You called the game a “spendid affair”, You didn’t enjoy it?

        • art thiel

          In the context of McCarthy’s remark, he wanted to talk ball, not calls. So I responded by devoting a couple of sentences to the other 59:59. And I’d love to influence the NFL, but I’m not near the front of the line of 40 million other fans, including every one of the coaches and players, saying the same thing. The economic point for the NFL is petty relative to revenues and reputation.

          • rob

            Glad the hawks won, got tired of hearing their whining about the Superbowl with the Steelers. Nothing like a cheap freebie to divert the river of years. There’s your payback, now shut up about it and lets move on

  • LeonRussel–upholds-result/57840636/1?csp=34sports
    Here is the official reaction from the league to that last play:
    “When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown.
    “Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.
    “Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.
    “The result of the game is final.”
    But, of course, Art Thiel knows more than all the officials who reviewed the call. But, mainly, Thiel is just trying to pressure the NFL to cave in to the referees’ union’s demands in the labor dispute.

    • art thiel

      Leon, pay attention to your own eyes. Jennings caught it, but the refs miscalled it as simultaneous reception, and the NFL replay officials claimed the evidence was insufficient to overturn, which is butt-covering because they are not replacements but NFL employees. They didn’t want to make the replacements look worse.

      As do many fans, players, coaches, and journalists, I see the dispute as pennywise and pound-foolish. The resistance is based on arrogance and hubris, not economics.

  • LeonRussel
    Here is an article from this past January regarding “regular” referees in playoff games:
    NFL Admits Referees Blew Call In Lions/Saints Game
    By Sean Yuille on Jan 9, 8:03a
    Just how bad were the officials in Saturday’s game between the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints? On one of the biggest plays of the game, they managed to screw over both teams by completely blowing the call. The errors were so egregious that the NFL came out on Sunday and admitted that mistakes were made.
    To be specific since there were several questionable calls, I’m referring to the fumble that was forced by Willie Young in the second quarter. Drew Brees lost the ball after being hit by Young, and Justin Durant picked it up for the Lions. He would have easily scored a touchdown, except one official blew his whistle. Another ruled the play a fumble, which was the correct call. Because of the inadvertent whistle, however, the play was stopped and no return was allowed.
    As it turns out, the referees not only botched the call by blowing the whistle and preventing a return, but they also applied the rule incorrectly after the initial mistake was made. Here’s the explanation from the NFL (via Pro Football Talk):
    “Referee Tony Corrente ruled the play was a fumble and a recovery by Detroit,” the league said in a statement emailed Sunday night to PFT. “However, during the play and before Detroit recovered the fumble, another official blew the whistle believing it was an incomplete pass. Because the ruling on the field was a fumble, and the whistle came before the recovery, the play is dead because of the inadvertent whistle and the Saints should have retained possession of the ball. New Orleans would then have had the choice to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to replay the down. Inadvertent whistles are not reviewable.”
    This rule was correctly applied in Sunday’s Steelers/Broncos game after the referees made yet another mistake, and Denver got screwed as a result. The rule itself is pretty dumb, and it’s a good thing for the Lions that the referees botched the handling of it on Saturday. Had their incompetence prevented the Lions from even getting the ball, I would have blown a gasket.
    Of course, it shouldn’t have come to that in the first place. If not for the inadvertent whistle, the Lions likely would have had a touchdown return to go up 21-7. There’s no telling how the rest of the game would have played out, but the Lions’ chances of winning would have gone drastically up.
    The worst part of it all is that it’s not just the Lions drawing the short end of the stick with the refs. I know seemingly every week the Lions get screwed, but there were some horrendous calls in every game this past weekend. If this is the best the NFL has to offer, then there is a serious problem with the state of the referees, because they are downright awful. Until the NFL actually does something to improve the officiating, chances are there will continue to be more bad calls in key moments, and the game of football is going to suffer as a result.
    Read that last paragraph, Arthur. Sounds sort of like your whine in today’s column, doesn’t it? Except that was about the “regular” referees in playoff games!
    People always, always, always complain about officiating in every sport. Doesn’t matter who the officials are, they are constantly criticized. That author called the regular referrees in playoff games last year “downright awful.” But, Arthur says the NFL needs them back.

    • art thiel

      You’re missing the point, which Carroll made well: This is a hard game to officiate well for even the bright, veteran, hard-working guys who’ve been at it 20 years. Throwing these UPS drivers and fry cooks in there is guaranteed disaster instead of the inevitable occasional one.

  • Roadspike

    Eric Davis (former DB) breaks it down. Should have been Offensive Pass Interference (pretty obviously), but the ruling on the catch vs. interception was correct.

    • art thiel

      NFL admits the PI, but replay cannot reverse something that isn’t called. See our latest posting.

  • Epacific

    I really thought that three hands caught the ball simultaneously: Tate’s left hand and both of Jenning’s hands. Is there a percentage to simultaneous possession? If so, GB got an interception by 66.66%. But I don’t think the rule states that and, if so, this perhaps-not-so-objective-Seahawks-fan still thinks it was simultaneous possession being rightfully awarded to the Hawks.

    Art, you put it well: “The Seahawks need not be ashamed to claim it, but the NFL needs to be ashamed to own it.” If, indeed, this was a Packer’s interception, then the legion of Green Bay fans as well as the NFL at large can take the advice we received in 2006 when, even by referee Bill Leavy’s admission, the blown officiating handed the outcome of Superbowl XL to the Steelers: you lost, stop whining, get over it.

    • art thiel

      See the latest story on Sportpress NW for the latest explainer from the NFL.

  • Soggyblogger

    Enjoyed the article, but disagree with many points you make. Plus, the game was much more than this one play, but is being largely ignored. This is giving those who called Irvin a reach a way to avoid eating their crow.

    In a perfect world this game would have been officiated by the best of the best, and then it still might have been a travesty. But “integrity of the game”? Hogwash. We won, and we were the better team. Drink the Kool Aid. Ah! Delicious.

    • art thiel

      Disagreed with many points? You could at least name one. And obviously the game was much more than one play. But when the last one, a game-decider, is the wrong call, that should infuriate fans even more, because there was a lot going on in that game lost because of NFL misdeed.