After all, Iwakuma was an All-Star a year ago and finished third in the Cy Young Award balloting.
Here’s the question, though: Is he the best pitcher in the American League? That case is getting easier to make — isn’t it? — after watching Iwakuma deliver another gem Tuesday in a 6-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.
“He’s phenomenal,” said third baseman Kyle Seager, who had three hits and two RBI in pacing a balanced attack. “This was just typical Kuma. He just goes out there, and he does this every night.
“He’s unbelievably consistent. He’s got the great tempo and induces ground balls. Even if people do get on, he can always get you a double-play ball. He’s pretty special.”
Iwakuma is 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA in four starts since returning from the disabled list. This after going 14-6 last season with a 2.66 ERA while getting no-decisions in five games when he went six or more scoreless innings.
“Same Iwakuma,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “Sinking the ball. Cutting the ball. Hitting his spots. Changing speeds. Working fast. Having early contact. That’s what he does.”
And on Tuesday, for the first time in three starts, the Mariners backed Iwakuma with more than one run of support. Everyone in the lineup reached base at least once.
Here’s the twist: The Mariners believe Iwakuma can get even better.
“I don’t think it was best stuff, by far, today,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “I don’t think his command was where he wanted it. But he did a great job of mixing all of his pitches and keeping them off-balance enough.”
Iwakuma gave up two runs and six hits while throwing 99 pitches in eight innings. It marked the first time in his career that he’s pitched eight innings in three consecutive starts. He has never pitched a complete game.
“I’m not very obsessed with going nine innings,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I just go out there and do my part, and I felt I did my part today.”
Charlie Furbush and Danny Farquhar, each in need of work, closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth inning in a non-save situation.
The victory lifted the Mariners back to .500 at 22-22 after going 20-24 through 44 games in each of the previous three years. They haven’t had a winning record at this point in the season since going 29-15 in 2003.
Rangers starter Colby Lewis, 3-3, gave up five runs and nine hits, all singles, in six innings. The damage could have been greater; the Mariners stranded seven runners against Lewis.
Adrian Beltre’s leadoff homer in the second provided Texas with a 1-0 lead and ended a 17-inning scoreless run by Iwakuma, but the Mariners took command with a four-run third inning.
Seager’s two-run single was the key blow, but the Mariners had lots of contributors in building their lead to 5-1 and 6-2.
Robinson Cano had two hits, including an RBI single, and has now reached base safely at least once in a career-high 27 games consecutive games. He had a 26-game streak for the Yankees in 2012.
Rookie James Jones contributed a bunt single to the four-run third inning and has at least one hit in each of his 11 career starts. That breaks the franchise record of 10 set by Edgar Martinez in 1987.
Jones also has a 10-game hitting streak overall; no Mariners rookie has reached double figures since Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp in 2011.
Nick Franklin had two hits and a sacrifice fly in his first game since being recalled from Class AAA Tacoma. Ackley had two hits, including an RBI double, and Brad Miller contributed a single and a walk.
Mostly, though, there was Iwakuma.
“Like I’ve said before,” he said, “I have to make up for that one month that I lost (because of a finger injury). That’s all I have in mind. I feel good. Each time, it’s been better.”
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