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 news has gone from bad to worse for Dodgers’ left-hander Julio Urias, who is scheduled for anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder next Tuesday and expected to be sidelined through the middle of the 2018 season. His MRI came back negative on Wednesday, giving the Dodgers some hope that the 20-year-old’s bout of shoulder inflammation wasn’t masking any structural damage, but the pain lingered several days later and prompted further concern from the club. The procedure will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
Urias was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May and placed on the disabled list with left shoulder discomfort several weeks into his assignment. At the major league level, he owned a 5.40 ERA, 5.4 BB/9 and 4.2 SO/9 through 23 1/3 innings, going 0-2 in five starts with Los Angeles. He made a brief rebound in Triple-A, posting three wins and striking out 17 of 67 batters in 17 1/3 innings before landing on the DL.
It’s a tough blow for the southpaw, who had yet to hit his stride in the majors before getting sidelined with shoulder issues. The Dodgers were especially mindful of this outcome for Urias, and had taken preventative measures to protect his arm by establishing a strict innings limit last season. According to club president Andrew Friedman, there’s a small silver lining here: while Urias’ injury will keep him out of work for at least 12 months, he doesn’t appear to have sustained any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff, and could be facing a much more streamlined recovery process as a result. Whether he’ll be able to rebound once he takes the mound again remains to be seen.
Tigers’ right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez was released on Friday, per a team announcement. The club recalled fellow right-hander Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo in a corresponding move.
The former closer got the boot after losing his closing role in early May, giving left-hander Justin Wilson a chance to impress at the back end of the bullpen. It’s been a rough year for Rodriguez, who manufactured six blown saves and a 7.82 ERA, 3.9 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 over 25 1/3 innings for the Tigers. The final straw, it seemed, came with Robinson Cano‘s grand slam in the seventh inning of the Tigers’ 6-9 loss to the Mariners on Thursday.
While the demotion to a clean-up role and an apparent lack of communication caused Rodriguez considerable frustration, he’s two years removed from his last dominant performance as a major league closer and has shown few signs of returning to form. His recent slump doesn’t diminish the impressive totals he’s racked up over his 16-year career — 437 saves and six All-Star nominations among them — but if he can’t break out of it soon, he may not receive the kind of high leverage role he’s seeking with another big league team, either.