DETROIT -- While trade rumors have swirled around Tigers ace David Price, there were plenty of scouts checking out Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma on Thursday as well as he continued his return from an injury-plagued start with another strong outing in Seattle's 3-2, 12-inning victory.
Iwakuma, like Price, will be a free agent at year's end. And the Mariners, 44-52 after wrapping up a 3-4 road trip, could be sellers as well at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. For teams looking for a quality starting pitcher, the 34-year-old standout may be a tempting addition after showing he's fully over a strained lat that sidelined him for much of the season.
Iwakuma went 0-1 with a 7.17 ERA in four outings sandwiched around an 11-week stint on the disabled list, but he is 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA with four walks and 18 strikeouts over his past three starts. Yet he said he's not worried about trade possibilities, instead focusing on finishing strong for the team that signed him out of Japan four years ago.
"I don't worry about the future," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I just have to take care of one game at a time. I missed a lot of baseball the first half -- two and a half months. I have to make up for that and contribute to the team. That's all I have in mind."
Iwakuma gave up three straight hits and two runs to open Thursday's game, with Victor Martinez's two-run double erasing Seattle's 1-0 lead before Seattle could even record an out. But Iwakuma retired the next 10 batters in a row and finished up seven innings on six hits on just the two runs, with two walks and seven strikeouts.
Iwakuma also threw a career-high 112 pitches after telling manager Lloyd McClendon he was good to go deeper into the game than normal, knowing Seattle's bullpen was thin.
"I'm happy I got to go through seven innings after starting off kind of rough and the pitch count got up," Iwakuma said. "I wanted to pitch strong, stay in the game, pitch with patience and wait for that big hit to come. And it did come. I'm very happy."
And the Mariners are happy to see Iwakuma looking like the guy who went 38-20 with a 3.07 ERA in 77 starts over the previous three years.
"Once he got his lather, he started throwing the ball pretty good," McClendon said. "He kept telling me he was fine. I've got to trust my veterans. And he was fine. He did a great job for us."
McClendon normally plays it cautiously with Iwakuma, but even at 101 pitches, the manager brought him back out for the seventh. The Tigers laced back-to-back singles with one out before Iwakuma gloved a hard comebacker by Anthony Gose, turned and fired to second before Chris Taylor reached the bag, leading the young shortstop perfectly to the base to set up a double-play relay throw to nail Gose and keep the score tied at 2.
"I knew I was quick when I turned to second, but you have to believe in your teammate and that was C.T., and he got the job done," Iwakuma said. "The batter, Antony Gose, is a quick guy so you know it's a do-or-die play."