Upcoming off day a chance for Iwakuma's blister problems to fade away

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Hisashi Iwakuma did more than merely crawl across the finish line to where his blistered finger can finally get some rest.

Instead, he sprinted through a power-laden Los Angeles Angels lineup until the Mariners decided not to push their luck any further. With a long-awaited off day due the Mariners later this week, Iwakuma can finally have his next start bumped back a bit so that his finger can heal more properly.

But the healing process appears to have already begun, with Iwakuma saying Sunday his finger felt better than it has in a while after a strict regimen that limited his in-game pitch counts and behind-the-scenes throwing regimen. The result was Iwakuma striking out eight batters over six innings with no earned runs allowed Sunday, going toe-to-toe with southpaw Jason Vargas, the man he now appears to have fully replaced as the No. 2 starter with the Mariners.

“It’s better overall,” he said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “It’s better for me to command the pitches to both corners and the ball comes out of my hand a lot better.”

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Iwakuma improved his earned-run average against the Angels to 1.03 in six appearances.

“They have very good No. 3 and No. 4 hitters,” Iwakuma said. “So, to keep the guys off before seeing the No. 3 and 4 hitters is a big key for me. I’ve been very successful doing that.”

Iwakuma hasn’t done too shabbily against those No. 3 and No. 4 hitters either, with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton now just 4 for 25 (.160) lifetime against him and hitless Sunday.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he isn’t as surprised as he might have been a year ago over what Iwakuma keeps doing on the mound.

“I’m not now, just because of what we saw in the second half of last year,” Wedge said. “And the consistency with which he executed pitches with stuff once he got strong. And all the way back (from injury). And then the way he came into this spring. The way he threw the ball, It was very consistent with good stuff and he just rolled that right into the season.”


• The Mariners hope to have Michael Saunders back in the lineup Monday against the Baltimore Orioles. Saunders went hitless Sunday while playing center field for the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers in what should be the final game of his injury rehabilitation assignment. Saunders sent a text message to Wedge on Saturday night proclaiming: “I’m ready!”

Kyle Seager went 0 for 4 Sunday and saw his 16-game hitting streak come to an end. Seager had been 23 for 59 (.390) during the streak, the longest in the majors this season.

Dustin Ackley extended his hitting streak to nine games with a single to right field in the sixth inning.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners. Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners.

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