Had it not been for a patch of five sub-par outings between June 16-July 9, during which he lost three times with two no decisions, Hisashi Iwakuma would still be in the American League Cy Young Award conversation. Based on Iwakuma’s latest — four hits, no earned runs, nine strikeouts, no walks in an 8-2 Seattle romp Thursday night — the Minnesota Twins probably believe Iwakuma never should have left it.
Backed by a six-run second-inning outburst that featured a three-run homer by rookie Nick Franklin, Iwakuma has been especially tough on the Twins. Working six innings, he ran his career record against them to 4-0 and his streak of consecutive innings without an earned run allowed to 26.2. During that span, Iwakuma has 24 strikeouts and eight walks.
“During those five games, I think his ball was up a little bit,” said interim manager Robby Thompson, guiding the club in Eric Wedge’s absence. “And he’s human. But he’s made some adjustments, he locates, and that’s what he did tonight.”
Iwakuma’s 10 wins, including three in a row following the five-game dry spell, are a career high, topping the nine he had last year. The win took the sting out of a 10-1 drubbing administered by Cleveland Wednesday. The Mariners, who had an eight-game winning streak snapped in that one, have won nine of 10, 14 of 20 and are 22-16 over their past 38.
They have also beaten Minnesota six consecutive times at Safeco Field and 11 times in the past 15. Thursday’s was Seattle’s 15th win by five or more runs and hiked the July record to 14-6.
The Mariners even featured effective relief once Iwakuma departed. Danny Farquhar tossed 2.0 innings of scoreless relief and Oliver Perez, after getting two quick outs in the ninth, allowed a pair of run-scoring doubles when he needed only one strike to end the game.
One night after scratching out two hits against the Indians, the Mariners produced 11, three by Dustin Ackley, who drove in a pair of runs and hiked his batting average to .224. Six of Seattle’s 11 hits went for extra bases, including Franklin’s eighth home run.
“It really helps the confidence,” said No. 9 hitter Ackley, who had a pair of doubles as the bottom of the Seattle order delivered six hits.
The Mariners staked Iwakuma to a 6-0 lead when they tore through hapless starter Kevin Correia for seven hits, four for extra bases. Kyle Seager started with a double and scored on Mike Zunino’s single to left. Ackley followed with a single, scoring Justin Smoak, who had reached on a single. Brad Miller’s double scored Zunino and Franklin’s homer plated Ackley and Miller.
Franklin’s homer, the 12th by a Seattle rookie this season, spelled the end for Correia, who lasted 1.2 innings, allowing six runs on seven hits with no strikeouts and a walk.
The Mariners added two more in the fifth when, after Michael Saunders singled, Henry Blanco smacked a run-scoring double off Ryan Pressly and scored on an Ackley double.
Friday the Mariners put up Felix Hernandez (11-4, 2.43) against LHP Scott Diamond (5-9, 5.53). Hernandez won six consecutive decisions and has a 2.34 ERA over his past 10 starts. Diamond has struggled with an 0-2 record and 7.82 ERA in his past three outings.
NOTES: Saturday’s start time for the third game of the Minnesota series is 1:10 p.m., which is aimed at helping the city cope with traffic issues due to the Seafair Torchlight Parade Saturday night. Since the start time falls within the FOX national window, neither the Mariners nor Twins will televise the game. This will be the only Seattle game of the season not carried on Root Sports or FOX . . . OF Michael Morse, who played a rehab game in Tacoma Thursday, could return to the Mariners by the weekend, according to Thompson, filling in for Eric Wedge while Wedge recovers from a mild stroke. The Mariners face a tough roster decision when Morse returns, given that the club currently carries five outfielders in Raul Ibanez, Endy Chavez, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Jason Bay . . . The Mariners promoted first-round draft choice D.J. Peterson from A Everett to A Advanced Clinton after he hit .312 with six home runs and 27 RBIs in 29 games.