He also had to transition from starter in Japan to a reliever with the Mariners and back to a starter again in the span of a year. And most of all he had to adjust to a different life than the one he'd always known.
Yet by the end of it all, he had not only produced a quality first season for the Seattle Mariners, but had done enough to earn a two-year, $13 million contract extension that will keep him in the organization for the next two seasons.
Iwakuma had the chance to test the waters of free agency. After a season in which he posted 9-5 record with two saves and 3.16 ERA in 30 appearances, there certainly would have been suitors. He also went 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 16 starts in the second half of the season. It proved he could be a solid contributor in a starting rotation, which also upped his value.
But in the end, Iwakuma chose to stay with the organization that gave him his first shot. It's where he felt most comfortable.
"First and foremost, I am very happy with how the Seattle Mariners treated me throughout the season and for their evaluation in me as a starter," Iwakuma said in quotes released through the Mariners. "My family was a big factor in our decision. We are very happy and satisfied with Seattle and we look forward to staying for at least 2 years."
At the beginning of the season, it seemed as though Iwakuma was the forgotten pitcher on the Mariners 25-man roster. He made just three relief appearances in the first 31 games of the season. Slowly, he adjusted to life as a reliever and earned the trust of manager Eric Wedge. The long relief success led to spot starts and then a permanent spot in the rotation.
"There was a lot I learned this year as a reliever in the beginning, just a whole new experience in a different role," Iwakuma said. "I was very happy given the opportunity to become a starter again, and am glad I was able to show what I can do. As I became comfortable in my role, I learned a lot about the hitters here and how they are different from Japan."
Iwakuma will likely find himself in the starting rotation along with Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Blake Beavan and maybe Danny Hultzen among other candidates. It's where he feels he's best suited for success.
"I am most comfortable as a starter and I've learned a lot from the experience this year," he said. "This year was a very important year for me knowing what fits best for myself."
But the knowledge of what to expect this season isn't going to change Iwakuma's offseason preparation too much.
"I do not see myself changing anything dramatically," he said. "I would like to prepare for the season earlier than the past and come to spring training ready to go as opposed to getting prepared in spring training."
M's claim Cousins
The Mariners claimed outfielder Scott Cousins off of waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon. The 27-year-old Cousins spent the 2012 season in the Miami Marlins organization, splitting time between Class AAA New Orleans and the big league club. Cousins played in 53 games with Miami, hitting .163 (14-for-86) with six extra-base hits and three RBI. In 61 games in Class AAA, he hit .296 with seven homers and 36 RBI.
Cousins was claimed off of waivers by the Blue Jays in a few weeks ago, but was designated for assignment by Toronto on Oct. 31.
With the addition of Cousins, the Mariners 40-man roster is now at 37. Cousins also has a minor league option available, which gives Seattle some flexibility.
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