This week we are looking back at one of the best international signings the Mariners have had to date: Hisashi Iwakuma. Since I’m pretty sure we haven’t spotlighted a pitcher in this series yet, I figured it was about time we do. To kick it off, we’re going to start with Felix’s right-hand man (pun intended).
Growing up a Seattle fan in a rural town in Eastern Oregon, we were about 5-1/2 hours from Seattle, so I didn’t get to attend as many games as I would have liked growing up. But the positive in that is that I really remember the ones I was able to be at.
One such game happened to be a 5-0 Mariners victory against the Angels. Iwakuma, one week removed from a 2-month stint on the IL, started that night and after a rocky start where he gave up hits to Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout in the 1st inning, he managed to pitch 8 shutout innings, including a BIG strikeout of Trout in the 6th inning.
Iwakuma was a rock for the Mariners rotation from 2012-2016, providing consistent numbers throughout his entire big league career. While he was never considered a top of the rotation guy, he was a reliable middle man who could eat up innings and keep the team in a game.
Kuma-Bear (as he is affectionately known around Seattle) shared the mound with the likes of Felix Hernandez and James Paxton which, for a brief time, represented the most imposing 3-headed monster the team has had in the rotation in many years, if for no other reason than the potential ceiling each pitcher had.
Each pitcher had up years and down years, and while Paxton’s role with the team was limited (greatly due to health) up until his breakout season in 2016, all three were able to contribute to the team in ways the 2021 Mariners would have appreciated.
Hisashi Iwakuma’s Greatest Mariners Moment
While he gave a lot to the organization in terms of what he contributed on the mound, the first thing most baseball people would think of when they hear the name Hisashi Iwakuma would probably be his 2015 no-hitter.
At the time, it may have been a bit of a surprise to see a no-hitter next to the name of a Mariners pitcher not named Felix. However, this particular start for Iwakuma on August 12, 2015, took place right in the middle of one of the most dominant 4-game stretches of his career. In four starts between August 2-August 18, Kuma-Bear gave up just 6 runs and struck out 27 batters, leading to a 1.86 ERA and a 0.62 WHIP.
But the peak of this stretch came on August 12 against the Orioles, where Iwakuma was able to do what few pitchers can say they’ve accomplished, holding Baltimore batters hitless for 9 full innings and etching his name into the annals of baseball with the 5th no-hitter in Mariners franchise history. (*Highlights of the celebration below include a Logan Morrison sighting and Felix’s Kuma-Bear hat).
If there is one hole I would love to see the Mariners fill on the defensive side of things once the lockout ends, it would be to nab a starting pitcher that could fill the role Iwakuma did in the early-mid 2010s. A solid, consistent pitcher with great command that could fill any spot in a rotation from your 2-4. If he happens to be as likable as the guy in the video above, well I wouldn’t say no to that either.