It’s tough to get much attention when AL ERA leader Felix Hernandez is your teammate, but Hisashi Iwakuma is quietly emerging as a formidable sidekick at the top of the Mariners’ rotation.
Iwakuma gave up two runs over seven innings last night in a 6-3 win over the Athletics. The 32-year-old struck out nine and walked none while retiring 16 batters in a row at one point. Brooks Baseball notes that he had 12 swings and misses, including five on his splitter, which has emerged as a legitimate weapon during his brief time in the majors.
Just to give you a sense of how good Iwakuma has been this season, his ERA actually went up from 1.61 to 1.74 with last night’s start. Still, he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his eight starts this season and owns a stingy 51/8 K/BB ratio over 51 2/3 innings. His 0.74 WHIP is the best in the American League. And to think, he has pitched most of the season with a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand.
Iwakuma’s dominance actually dates back to last season, as he has a 2.33 ERA in 24 starts since moving to the rotation last July. Only Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, and Kris Medlen have a lower ERA in the same timespan. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to maintain his .198 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 84.4 percent strand rate, so some regression should be expected, but the Mariners’ decision to keep him around on a two-year, $14 million deal looks pretty smart right now.
The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.
Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”
The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.