The Mariners Japanese ace, Hisashi Iwakuma, is set to make his 2017 season debut tonight facing the Houston Astros. Especially after last night’s injury scare with Felix Hernandez and the preseason news that Drew Smyly will be out for two months, the need for Iwakuma to not miss a start like he did in 2016 becomes all the more important.
Aside from coming out on the winning side of tonight’s ballgame, the Mariners will hope that their #2 pitcher, Iwakuma, can stay on the mound until late in the game and not be sidelined by injury.
The injury bug has cursed the M’s already this season. As was mentioned, Hernandez was forced to leave the season-opener due to groin tightness and just this past week the team also received bad news that Drew Smyly will be out for 6-8 weeks with elbow troubles.
If you remember, Hernandez spent about five weeks on the DL in the middle of last season, his longest stint there in his career.
Knowing that Yovani Gallardo is also prone to injury, and James Paxton was on the DL last season with elbow issues of his own, that leaves Iwakuma as the last hope for a healthy-ish starting rotation.
There is no reason to think that injuries are on the horizon for the rest of the rotation, but with their track records, who knows.
Iwakuma’s 33 starts in 2016 were the most by any Mariners pitcher since Hernandez’s 34 in his near Cy Young winning season in 2014.
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Iwakuma’s 199 innings pitched were the most in 2016 by over 40 frames and were the most by any M’s player that isn’t Felix Hernandez since Iwakuma himself went 219 innings in his almost Cy Young season in 2013.
Furthermore, since Iwakuma came into the league in 2012, Hernandez has only pitched 180 more innings than the Japanese hurler and the next closest pitcher to Iwakuma is Taijuan Walker who has thrown 500 fewer innings than Iwakuma. No, that is not a typo.
But, the pressure is not on Iwakuma alone to stay fit and pitch as many innings as possible, it is up to the likes of Ariel Miranda, who is replacing Smyly for the next two months, and others like Robert Whalen who may be called in if someone else goes down to fill the void.
Figuring out who the most essential arms are in 2017 was a topic discussed in our latest podcast.
Iwakuma has proven himself as the team’s backup ace and the backup most reliable pitcher over the last five seasons, so if he were to be plagued by the injury bug, the Mariners shot at a playoff birth would begin to look grim.