Iwakuma and Maeda — friends, offseason training partners and two of the top pitchers Japan has produced in the past decade — worked into the fifth inning in front of more than 40 Japanese media members.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Perhaps one day it will happen in a game with more meaning — an interleague matchup or the ultimate scenario, a World Series game.
But for Hisashi Iwakuma and Kenta Maeda — friends, offseason training partners and two of the top pitchers Japan has produced in the past decade — Monday’s Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch, a 6-3 Mariners win, was a good start for their first meeting as opponents.
The Mariners’ Iwakuma is a veteran of five major-league seasons and a one-time All-Star. Maeda is the newest pitching import to enter the big leagues, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, after success in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Mariners 6, Dodgers 3
At Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., the Mariners got outstanding relief appearances from right-handers Tony Zych and Donn Roach. Zych entered in the sixth inning, striking out Joc Pederson and Charlie Culberson and getting a weak groundout to third from Elian Herrera to end the inning.
Roach pitched three scoreless innings, allowing three hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
Player of the game
As he has done so often in his career, Nelson Cruz changed the game with one swing. With the Mariners trailing 3-2, Cruz hit his second homer of the spring — a three-run blast over the Dodgers’ bullpen in left field off lefty Luis Avilan — to highlight a four-run inning.
“That’s the best game we’ve played in a few days. It was good to see everybody regroup after all the split squads and different start times. I thought the top of our lineup — (Ketel) Marte and (Luis) Sardinas — really did a nice job. Good at-bats early in the game, aggressive on the bases and it’s nice to see that.” — Manager Scott Servais.
The Mariners have a much-needed off day Tuesday. But left-hander James Paxton will stay on regular schedule and start for the Mariners’ Class AAA squad in a minor-league game on the back fields of the Peoria Sports Complex. The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.
Monday’s matchup was not overlooked in Japan.
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With more than 40 Japanese media members in attendance following their every move, Iwakuma and Maeda worked into the fifth inning.
Neither was dominant, but both were effective. Maeda worked five innings, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts. The runs came in the first inning. The Mariners registered three consecutive hits off Maeda to start the game, highlighted by Robinson Cano’s two-run single.
“He pitched a great game,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “He got in trouble early on, and he made some adjustments and changed speeds in the second inning and on. This is the first time I’ve ever played against him in a professional game or any game period. It was fun.”
Iwakuma pitched 41/3 innings, giving up three runs on eight hits with a walk and three strikeouts. Dodgers designated hitter Justin Turner did all of the damage. He belted a solo homer in the first inning and had RBI doubles in the third and fifth innings.
“The pitch on the home run was a curveball down in the zone,” Iwakuma said. “I thought it was a good pitch, but he stayed on it. The second at-bat, the ball was up, and the third at-bat the pitch was up, too. Those two pitches I could’ve executed better. But he still put good swings on them.”
When Iwakuma exited the field and walked past the dugout toward the visitor’s clubhouse, he stopped at the Dodgers’ dugout where Maeda was at the top step waiting. The two pitchers shook hands and gave the customary bow.
“I was very happy to be able to pitch against him,” Maeda said through his interpreter. “Because this is not something I’ll be able to do during the regular season. This was fun.”
During their offseason workouts, Iwakuma and Maeda talked about the chance to face each other in the big leagues. But with the Mariners playing interleague games against the National League Central this season, it wasn’t going to happen in the regular season. But in the past few weeks, Iwakuma and Maeda noticed that there was a chance they could line up to face each other in a Cactus League game.
“We were thinking — maybe this game we could face each other,” Iwakuma said. “We were kind of motivated by it.”
The meeting also had a subplot that helped Maeda land with the Dodgers. Early in December, Iwakuma agreed to a three-year, $45 million contract with the Dodgers. But the deal fell apart when the Dodgers raised concerns about Iwakuma’s physical. They wanted to restructure the contract. Iwakuma instead returned to the place he never wanted to leave — Seattle. He agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract with the Mariners that included a $1 million signing bonus, several incentives and two vesting option years.
The Dodgers used some of that money not given to Iwakuma to sign the younger Maeda to an eight-year, incentive-laden, $25 million contract.
Asked if the game against the Dodgers had extra meaning, Iwakuma shrugged off a chance to voice any displeasure, much like he had done when he signed with Seattle.
“I have no feelings toward the past,” he said. “This was just another game that I looked forward to pitching in.”
• Left-hander James Paxton will pitch in the Class AAA game against the White Sox on Tuesday on the back fields of the Mariners’ complex. Manager Scott Servais has requested that Mike Zunino, last year’s starting catcher who now is in minor-league camp, catch the game. Paxton is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation with Nathan Karns.
Servais had to weigh the value of keeping Paxton on normal rest with the other pitchers vs. seeing him against big-league hitters and keeping the competition fair.
“Keeping him on his day, we talked about how to do it,” Servais said. “You want to get these guys extended out. I don’t want to cut one guy short in their outing. They need to face live hitters. Again, even when you’re evaluating — I’ve evaluated enough that when you’re watching a Triple-A game on a back field — you’re looking at the stuff and how he’s able to make adjustments and make pitches just as much as you’re looking at the result. And I think that’s really important, because a lot of times you just get caught up in the result. I think it will be good for him, and we do need to get him extended. Last time he did not get through the third inning. I’d like to see him get through five innings; that would be the goal (Tuesday).”
• Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (flu) was scratched from Monday’s game.
• First baseman Dae-Ho Lee has left the team for a few days and returned to Washington to be with his wife, who is expecting a child. The Mariners are off Tuesday, and he likely will be available for Wednesday night’s game vs. the A’s.