Manager admits slower pitches make poor throws more hittable for struggling right-hander.

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Unlike on Monday when manager Lloyd McClendon refused to talk about the struggles of James Paxton, simply saying: “He’s got to pitch better,” the struggles of Hisashi Iwakuma were something McClendon was more than open to discussing before Tuesday’s game against the Astros.

Less than 24 hours before, Iwakuma pitched 51/3 innings, giving up four runs on five hits, including two homers and two doubles.

In three starts this season, Iwakuma has posted a 6.61 ERA in 161/3 innings pitched. Of the 20 hits he’s allowed this season, 11 have gone for extras bases — six doubles and five homers, giving hitters a .959 OPS against. They are far from the worst numbers on the staff. But it’s also far from the Iwakuma that McClendon and Mariners fans are used to seeing — the all-star caliber Iwakuma.

So what’s going on?

“There’s a couple things and I won’t talk about it publicly about what he needs to do, but when you break down film and you analyze when he was successful and what he’s doing now, there’s some things he needs to get straightened out,” McClendon said. “And we’ll work on it. And we’ll get him back to where he needs to be.”

Iwakuma’s velocity is down early in the season. An opposing scout said Iwakuma’s four-seam fastball sat around 87 to 88 mph against the Astros and the two-seam came in around 84 to 85 mph at times.

Pitch F/x numbers confirm the readings.

Two years ago, Iwakuma could touch 93 to 94 with the four seam and 89 to 90 with the two-seam. Now it’s just not there. The belief is that the velocity will build up as the season progresses.

“I’m not overly concerned with velocity,” McClendon said. “I’m more concerned with command than velocity right now. He’s leaving too many balls in the middle of the plate and working behind on too many hitters. And that’s what we have to get straightened out. The velocity will come.”

But McClendon admitted that the decreased velocity makes poorly commanded pitches that much more hittable — hence the extra-base hits.

Pitching coach Rick Waits took Iwakuma and his translator Antony Suzuki into the film room in the clubhouse for close to 30 minutes before emerging.

“It’s not mental for him,” Waits said. “He’s got incredible concentration and is focused. He’s just not getting on top of the ball and behind the ball. He’s dropping down just a little bit and it’s affecting the movement on his fastball. You can see it and then you verify or not verify it on video. To me that’s what video is for.”

Waits believes that the mechanical changes will bring back the lost velocity.

“I think it’s a matter of him staying on top of the ball,” Waits said. “If he stays on top and drives the ball downhill, you’ll see the velocity pick up.”

The starting pitching issues have keep Waits busy. He spent Monday going over Paxton’s mechanics. Paxton’s numbers reflect his inconsistent outings — a 5.40 ERA in three starts. Like Iwakuma, he’s struggling with command and velocity. Paxton lamented some issues with his mechanics after his previous outing, saying he was too rotational. Waits saw the same thing after checking the video.

“He’s been working very hard to get it right,” Waits said. “I really expect a good game from him the next time out. He’s corrected some things on just letting it go, letting it fly, getting downhill and really pound the strike zone.”


• In the midst of answering a question about Iwakuma’searly struggles, McClendon veered off and said:

“But I will point this out and I think this is really important. I don’t have the exact numbers — but I would venture to say that during the course of the season, there’s going to be a stretch of 13 to 15 games where we play three or four games under .500. But when it happens at the beginning of the season, you have nothing to compare it to. Everything gets blown out of proportion and everything is going to hell. We have to keep our perspective and our heads about us and realize we haven’t even played a 10th of the season.

“We’re 5-8 and everyone is panicking. Iwakuma is not throwing good. He’s going to throw good. He’s going to be just fine. He’s going to get things straightened out. We have the type of team that when we do get things straightened out, we’ll get on a pretty good roll and it will be a lot of fun. And it will be a lot of fun for you guys to write about.”

Tom Wilhelmsen will start playing catch on Friday. The hope is he’ll be able to start throwing bullpen sessions on the upcoming road trip. McClendon said that Wilhelmsen will likely have to pitch a few innings in a rehab stint before coming back.