If any lingering doubts remain about Hisashi Iwakuma's status as an elite major-league pitcher, he's erasing them with each passing gem...
MINNEAPOLIS — If any lingering doubts remain about Hisashi Iwakuma’s status as an elite major-league pitcher, he’s erasing them with each passing gem.
On Friday, Iwakuma turned in what has now become a routinely strong effort as the Mariners blanked the Twins, 3-0, at Target Field. He shut down the Twins on seven hits over 7-2/3 innings, walking two, striking out five and toughening repeatedly with runners in scoring position.
“Oh my gosh — he’s so nasty,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan, who turned in another decisive defensive play to help thwart a Twins rally. “His stuff is great, he’s fun to play behind, he throws strikes. Great guy to have on your team.”
Also becoming routine for the Mariners is Kendrys Morales providing the offensive spark. His two-run homer in the sixth off Minnesota starter Mike Pelfrey was the biggest blow of the night.
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“Like so many times, he’s the one who got us going today,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
And Iwakuma did the rest while raising his record to 6-1 and lowering his earned-run average to 2.13. Against the Twins, he is now 3-0 and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 20-2/3 innings. All this on a night in which Iwakuma said he felt off-kilter in the bullpen warming up.
“I thought my balance wasn’t right,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “But then I was able to make the adjustment during the game.”
To the point that Wedge mentioned how lively Iwakuma’s stuff appeared all night. His ERA is now second-lowest in the American League, trailing only Boston’s Clay Buchholz (1.73).
“He was strong today,” Wedge said. “You could see by some of the swings that it was getting on them.”
The Twins had two runners on base in the third, fifth and seventh, and Iwakuma worked out of trouble each time. With runners on the corners and one out in the third, Jamey Carroll hit a bouncer up the middle that was grabbed by Ryan, who fired home without hesitation. Catcher Jesus Sucre held his ground, and held onto the ball, as base runner Chris Parmelee crashed into him. That kept the game scoreless.
“Once the runner went, if it gets over (Iwakuma’s head) and he goes home, then I’m going home,” Ryan said. “If he stays put, then the play is at first. You just have to anticipate it getting over his head and then make a decent throw, because he was out by a few steps. I don’t want to say it was the most difficult play, but I saw it all happen beforehand.”
Iwakuma said, “It was a big play because that would have been the first run, and they would have had the lead. Being able to avoid that was very big.”
Iwakuma is still looking for his first major-league complete game — he had 48 in Japan — but Wedge lifted him with two outs in the eighth, right after a strikeout of Josh Willingham. Charlie Furbush came in and struck out Justin Morneau on three pitches.
“We are still monitoring the finger (Iwakuma was bothered by a blister earlier in the season) and what not, and want to make sure we take care of that,” Wedge said. “I didn’t want him to face Morneau again. He wasn’t going to pitch the ninth inning, so if that’s the case, I’d rather bring in the lefty to go against Morneau in that situation — try to keep him away from running into one.”
Tom Wilhelmsen worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 12th save, his first since May 16 after blowing two in the interim.
Morales, meanwhile, is simply torrid. He has hit safely in 18 of his last 20 games, batting .361 (30 for 83) in that span, with nine doubles, five homers and 20 runs batted in. He said he is settling into his new team after being traded from the Angels in December.
“I’m getting real comfortable with these guys, and it looks like everyone is getting on a roll right now, and hopefully we keep it up,” Morales said, with reliever Danny Farquhar, who is fluent in Spanish, doing the translating.
Sucre drove in the final Mariners run later in the sixth with his second single of the game. Nick Franklin, coming off a two-homer game in San Diego, got on base three times with two walks and a single.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry.