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Hisashi Iwakuma to miss 4-6 weeks with shoulder inflammation

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Mariners’ right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled to miss 4-6 weeks with right shoulder inflammation, per an official announcement by the team on Saturday. Iwakuma had been battling knee and shoulder pain over the last week and was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Wednesday (retroactive to May 7) after a preliminary evaluation revealed inflammation in his pitching shoulder. The diagnosis was confirmed on Friday by Dr. Ed Khalfayan.

It’s been a rough start to the season for the 36-year-old righty, who posted a 4.35 ERA, 3.5 BB/9 and 4.6 SO/9 over his first 31 innings in Seattle. He’s coming off of some career-high numbers in 2016, during which he racked up a career-best 16 wins and a career-worst 4.12 ERA and 6.6 SO/9 rate through 199 innings. This is the first significant injury he’s seen since 2015, when he missed the first half of the season with a strained lat muscle.

The Mariners look significantly worse for wear after losing over half of their 2017 rotation to various injuries. James Paxton (left forearm strain) is scheduled to return to the rotation sometime in the next week or two, though it stands to reason that the club would take things slowly with one of their best pitchers. Felix Hernandez (right shoulder inflammation) and Drew Smyly (left flexor strain) are working with longer timetables for recovery, and neither are likely to see the mound before June. In the meantime, the Mariners will roll with right-hander Ryan Weber, who was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma to make his season debut against the Blue Jays on Saturday.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.