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.
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 As as a posted player after the 2010 season, but the two sides couldnt 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 couldnt have looked more picturesque.
Cut to April 20. Iwakuma hasnt pitched. Including spring training, he hasnt pitched competitively since April 2, and had a bad outing in an exhibition gme in Tokyo. He didnt grab one of the five spots in the starting rotation. Instead hes the long man in the bullpen, a role the Mariners havent 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 wasnt 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 its frustrating for him; he wants to get into that first game, Willis said. Its frustrating for us (Willis and Wedge), too, because we want to find the right spot for his first appearance.
He hasnt pitched in relief before. For that first game, we dont want to bring him in with men on. Wed 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; thats 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 hasnt played.
Its just one of those things, Wedge said. It happens from time to time through the course of a season. It just happens this time, its the beginning of the season.
You keep hanging on to your long guy for that next day, and thats what weve been doing. Thats the role hes in. We definitely want to try and get him in there. Multiple times weve tried to do it, and it just didnt work out. You have to work off the baseball game. Itll happen; well get him in there, we just havent 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.