Iwakuma's first start sets positive tone for spring

Iwakuma's first start sets positive tone for spring

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A healthy Hisashi Iwakuma figures to be one of Seattle's keys to success this season, and if Saturday's debut was any indication, the Mariners' standout right-hander is primed and ready.

Iwakuma, who missed all of Spring Training and the first month of last season with a torn finger tendon, threw two perfect innings in Saturday's 4-3 loss to the D-backs and barely worked up a lather despite the 80-degree temperatures.

Catcher Mike Zunino said the 33-year-old was extremely sharp in his first Cactus League outing, as he needed just 22 pitches and induced five groundouts, a sure indicator that his sinker was on target.

"He's right on track," Zunino said. "I know there are a couple things he wants to work on. He wants to get his splitter down just a hair, but a lot of that has to do with the dryness here. He doesn't get quite the spin he wants, but he's pretty incredible right now. I know he's enjoying Spring Training since he missed it last year. Just his stuff and the mechanics and way he can [adjust] on one pitch is incredible."

Iwakuma acknowledged that the steady diet of ground balls was a good sign. Things went so smoothly on the mound that he headed to the bullpen to throw 20 more pitches to build up his arm strength after being replaced following his two scheduled frames.

The 2013 American League All-Star is reluctant to rate how he feels compared to previous springs, but he was clearly pleased after his first start.

"It's hard to compare because you don't know where to put the standards," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "But when you look at my style, throwing strikes with a good groove and getting ahead in counts, I was able to do all of that. So I feel pretty comfortable right now and I'm pretty happy with my first game."

Manager Lloyd McClendon was pleased as well. Iwakuma went 15-9 with a 3.52 ERA in 28 starts last year, but he ran out of gas down the stretch in large part due to fatigue from not having a healthy Spring Training to build his arm strength for the long haul.

Having Iwakuma from the start this spring is one of the differences the Mariners are counting on.

"Iwakuma threw the ball extremely well," said McClendon. "I was very pleased. He looks healthy. He looks strong. That was a nice outing."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.