PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies found out for the first time what most of baseball already knows — Hisashi Iwakuma is pretty darn good.
The Phillies came into the game Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park with just one player on the roster — Ben Revere — having faced Iwakuma in a major-league game.
They left the game frustrated and flabbergasted and without a run against Iwakuma.
The Mariners right-hander carved up the Phillies, tossing eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits in leading Seattle to a 5-2 win.
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“He was outstanding,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He commanded all of his pitches. He was in and out and up and down. He did a tremendous job for us.”
Iwakuma was dominant and efficient, throwing 96 pitches with a whopping 76 strikes. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out 11. He found a rhythm, got ahead of hitters, racked up outs and continued work at a steady pace for the entire outing to improve to 12-6 for the season and lower his ERA to 2.57. Only one runner even reached second base against him.
“He keeps the ball down in the zone so well and he’s done a great job lately of elevating to change the eye level,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “That’s really been setting up the split-finger. Seeing him for the first time has got to be frustrating.”
The numbers reflect that frustration in interleague play. Iwakuma has made three interleague starts in National League parks in his career, and hasn’t given up a run in 22 innings pitched.
He’s currently in the midst of a streak of 172/3 shutout innings over his past three starts.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and go after hitters,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I felt like everything was working today.”
Iwakuma was so locked in he didn’t even realize he’d struck out 11 batters.
“I didn’t know that,” he said. “But in situations, we all have to execute and I was able to make pitches when I needed to.”
It was quite the opposite for Phillies starter A.J. Burnett, who pitched every bit like his 6-14 record and 4.42 ERA reflects. In a sign of things to come, Burnett walked Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley to start the game. Both runners would come around to score, with Jackson hustling home on a Robinson Cano ground ball to second and Ackley scoring on Logan Morrison’s run-scoring single up the middle.
Kyle Seager took advantage of Burnett’s lack of command to start sixth. Seager, one of Seattle’s more patient hitters, took three pitches out of the zone for balls.
McClendon gave Seager the green light on a 3-0 count — something he’s done more than a few times this season. Seager rewarded the confidence by blasting a fastball deep into the right-field seats for his team-high 19th homer of the season. This season, he’s 2 for 3 with two homers and five RBI on 3-0 pitches.
“There’s a certain amount of trust there,” McClendon said. “We are playing in a small ballpark and you don’t have to get it all to get it out of here. He put a good swing on a pretty good pitch.”
Seager wasn’t necessarily looking only for a homer, but he wasn’t thinking soft single.
“It’s definitely an aggressive approach,” he said. “You are looking for something to drive.”
The Mariners added to their 3-0 lead in the eighth inning. Burnett hit Cano with a pitch to start the troubles. He later issued a one-out walk to Morrison. Endy Chavez moved the runners up a base with a hard ground ball that first baseman Ryan Howard couldn’t handle cleanly enough for a double play. With runners in scoring position, Zunino gave the Mariners two insurance runs with a single.
With Iwakuma at 96 pitches and fighting a building cramp in his calf and a few relievers in need of a little work, McClendon called on Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina in the ninth inning. Neither was particularly sharp. Furbush walked Jimmy Rollins to start the inning. He got a ground ball for a fielder’s-choice out and then struck out Howard.
McClendon then brought in Medina to get the final out with a runner on first. He couldn’t do it. Medina gave up a single to Marlon Byrd, then later Chase Utley scored on a wild pitch. Domonic Brown doubled to right field to score Byrd and cut the lead to 5-2. After Medina hit Carlos Ruiz with a pitch, putting runners on first and second and the tying run at the plate, McClendon called on closer Fernando Rodney, who struck out Cody Asche to end the game.
“Not how we want to close it out,” McClendon said. “I’m upset I had to use my closer in that situation. But those things happen.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org