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MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - INSIDE PITCH
When the Mariners traded lefty Jason Vargas to acquire a middle-of-the-lineup hitter in Kendrys Morales last winter, it underscored the franchise's desperation for offense and put a lot of faith in a starting pitcher who had only 16 career starts under his belt.
The move essentially cemented righty Hisashi Iwakuma as the Mariners' No. 2 starter, and less than a year later, the only question is whether the 32-year-old starter has done enough to be considered even more than that.
In his first full season as a major league starter, Iwakuma not only exceeded expectations but also out-pitched teammate Felix Hernandez at the front of the Mariners rotation.
After throwing eight shutout innings in his final start of 2013, Iwakuma finished off the season with a 14-6 record and a 2.66 ERA -- giving him more wins and a lower ERA than Hernandez, who suffered his 10th defeat of the season in Friday's 8-2 loss to the A's. Hernandez finished 12-10 (3.04 ERA).
What has made Iwakuma's season even more impressive is the way he finished. He went 2-0 with a 0.76 ERA in September and didn't allow a single run over his final three starts -- a span of 23 consecutive scoreless innings.
The Mariners, who found out before Friday night's game that manager Eric Wedge would be stepping down after the weekend series, had high hopes for Iwakuma when they signed him before the 2012 season, but he was eased into action as a member of the bullpen before making his first start in July of that year. Since then, Iwakuma has gone 22-10 with a 2.66 ERA as a starter, and he has allowed one earned run or fewer in almost half (24 of 49) of his career starts.
For all the talk of Hernandez's annual Cy Young candidacy and the Mariners' up-and-coming pitching prospects, Iwakuma sometimes floated under the radar this season. He went through a stretch in late June and early July that saw too many opposing hitters turn his signature split-finger fastball into towering home runs, but he appears to have made an adjustment (just four home runs allowed over his final 13 starts of the season).
It's unlikely that Iwakuma will push Hernandez for the right to start next year's opener, but he has at least proven to be on the same level as the Mariners' longtime ace.
And no one could have seen that coming when Iwakuma was just looking to be a serviceable replacement for Vargas heading into the 2013 season.
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - NOTES, QUOTES
STREAK: Lost one
PAST 10 GAMES: 4-6
NEXT: A's (Jarrod Parker, 12-7, 3.74) at Mariners (Brandon Maurer, 4-8, 6.48)
--RHP Felix Hernandez followed a rough first inning with five dominant frames Friday night, when he took the mound for the final time this season and suffered the loss. Hernandez gave up a three-run homer in the top of the first but settled down to throw six innings while allowing three runs off five hits. Along the way, he surpassed the 200-inning mark for the season for the sixth year in a row. Hernandez joins Detroit's Justin Verlander as the only pitchers to have pitched at least 200 innings with 200 or more strikeouts in each of the past five seasons.
--RHP Erasmo Ramirez will get one final start this season. Ramirez wasn't originally listed among the probable pitchers for the Oakland series, but the pre-game notes that the Mariners handed out Friday listed him as the Sunday starter. LHP James Paxton had been the original starter for Sunday's game, but he'll be shut down for the season after pitching seven shutout innings of four-hit ball in his last start Tuesday night.
--OF Raul Ibanez entered the weekend with a remote shot at notching his 2,000th career hit, but that appears even less likely after an 0-for-4 performance Friday. Ibanez has 1,993 career hits heading into the final two games of the season. He also needs one more home run to become the oldest player (41) to hit 30 in a single season.
--OF Franklin Gutierrez continues to tantalize Mariners fans when he's healthy enough to play. The oft-injured veteran hit another home run Friday night, giving him 10 for the season despite playing in just 41 games. He became the ninth Seattle player to reach double digits in homers this year, marking the first time since 1997 that the Mariners have had that many players hit 10 or more home runs. Health has been Gutierrez's biggest weakness over the years, while unexpected power is beginning to look like one of his strengths.
--3B Kyle Seager has cooled off over the final three weeks of the season. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Friday night and is now hitting .133 (2-for-15) during the current homestand. Seager was hitting .283 on Sept. 6 but has since seen his season batting average drop 22 points -- to .261.
--RHP Brandon Maurer is coming off one of his best starts of the season, and it came at a pretty good time. Still hoping to push his way into consideration for the 2014 starting rotation, Maurer allowed one run off four hits in a 6-5 loss to the Royals last Monday. The rookie right-hander, who turned 23 in July, was in the Mariners' Opening Day rotation this season but struggled so badly that he eventually got sent to Triple-A and began working as a reliever upon his recall to the Mariners. He eventually got another shot as a starter for the final few weeks of the season, and Saturday afternoon should be his final audition as Maurer is scheduled to start against the A's.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's got to the point to where it's painfully obvious to me that I just wasn't going to be able to move forward with this organization." -- Manager Eric Wedge, who announced before Friday's game that he would not be returning for the 2014 season.
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - ROSTER REPORT
--RHP Stephen Pryor (torn right lat muscle) went on the 15-day disabled list April 15, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 17. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on July 19, but he was shut down for the remainder of the season in August.
RHP Felix Hernandez
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Taijuan Walker
RHP Erasmo Ramirez
LHP James Paxton
RHP Danny Farquhar (closer)
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
RHP Yoervis Medina
LHP Charlie Furbush
LHP Oliver Perez
LHP Lucas Luetge
RHP Brandon Maurer
RHP Chance Ruffin
RHP Hector Noesi
LHP Bobby LaFromboise
1B Justin Smoak
2B Nick Franklin
SS Brad Miller
3B Kyle Seager
DH Kendrys Morales
INF Carlos Triunfel
LF Franklin Gutierrez
CF Michael Saunders
RF Abraham Almonte
OF Raul Ibanez
OF Endy Chavez
OF/INF Dustin Ackley