Efficient Iwakuma breezes through spring debut

Right-hander retires all six batters he faces on 22 pitches vs. Texas

Efficient Iwakuma breezes through spring debut

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Hisashi Iwakuma made his Cactus League debut on Sunday with two perfect innings in a 7-3 victory over the Rangers as the standout right-hander opened his fifth season with the Mariners in efficient fashion.

The 34-year-old Iwakuma zipped through what looked close to the Rangers' regular-season lineup, retiring the six batters he faced on 22 pitches. Iwakuma threw 16 strikes and induced four ground balls, one pop up and a fly out to center.

"It was a good game, my first game in a long time, so I wanted to get back in the groove and get a feel for every pitch," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I felt I was able to command every pitch on each corner, where I wanted to. So overall, I feel I passed the test. Yeah, it was good."

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Iwakuma, who re-signed with the Mariners after a free-agent deal with the Dodgers fell through, finds himself back in a familiar place, albeit with a new manager, pitching coach and numerous new teammates.

"We have a lot of new faces, but we're all going through the learning process," he said. "I think we have a very good atmosphere, good chemistry in the clubhouse. So far, it's been great."

Iwakuma is plenty familiar with the Rangers. He's 8-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 14 regular-season meetings with Texas over the past four years. And with Seattle opening at Texas in a three-game series from April 4-6 and then hosting the Rangers at Safeco Field a week later, he'll likely line up against them for his first two starts of the season.

"I look forward to the competition," he said. "Hopefully I will throw two games in the first two weeks and I look forward to it."

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Iwakuma said he didn't change his strategy much or try to hide anything in Sunday's game, despite knowing he'd see the same hitters again when it counts.

"It's pretty much the same," he said. "I got four ground balls today and that's my game. I was able to execute pitches and they put the ball on the ground, so it worked out well."

Iwakuma's calm approach and experienced demeanor have impressed first-year manager Scott Servais.

"Kuma is a pro," Servais said. "He knows how to get ready. It's very controlled. It's a very professional bullpen and live BP when he's out there. The younger guys are grunting and ripping and snorting and Kuma goes about his work the right way."

That was more evident than ever in his workmanlike Cactus League debut.

"Six for six on first-pitch strikes, that will work first time out," said Servais. "He was really, really sharp. I was glad to see him come out [like that]. His fastball command was really good."

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