Iwakuma dazzles as Mariners blank Braves

ATLANTA — Not a bad stopover in Georgia.

The Mariners completed a two-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves with a 2-0 victory on Wednesday afternoon behind a softly dominating performance by Hisashi Iwakuma, more good bullpen work and just enough offense.

“Iwakuma was just Iwakuma-esque,” right fielder Stefen Romero said. “(Third in the) Cy Young last year. That’s nothing more than you’d expect when Iwakuma gets on the mound, and he showed it today.”

This was Iwakuma (4-2) at his iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove best. He rolled through seven innings while limiting the Braves to six singles. He struck out seven and walked none before handing a two-run lead to the bullpen.

“We had a tough time figuring out their starter,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez admitted. “The guy’s only throwing 87, 88 miles an hour, but he sure looked like he was throwing a lot harder.

“I know he had movement and some deception, but we didn’t square up too many balls against him. He was pretty darn good.”

Yoervis Medina worked the eighth before Fernando Rodney closed out the shutout for his 16th save in 18 chances. The Mariners’ bullpen produced six scoreless innings in Tuesday’s 7-5 comeback victory.

“My arm is getting better and better,” said Iwakuma, who missed the season’s first month because of an injured finger.

“I think the heat did help today. This is my seventh start, and it’s starting to get a lot better. I was able to pitch low in the zone, and I felt I had more life.”

This makes five straight victories for the Mariners who, at 31-28, are three games above .500 for the first time since they were 6-3 on April 11.

The current surge started last weekend with two home victories over Detroit before winning a makeup game Monday in New York. Now, it’s on to Tampa Bay.

“The schedule hasn’t really been in our favor,” said Willie Bloomquist, who started at first base for the first time in nearly 10 years. “But we’e making the most of it, which is nice.”

Atlanta starter Mike Minor (2-4) yielded just one run and five hits through seven innings. He also matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts but trailed 1-0 when Luis Avilan took over to start the eighth.

The Mariners capitalized immediately.

Romero roped a one-out triple past a loping Jason Heyward into the right-center gap. After James Jones replaced Romero as a pinch runner, the Braves shortened their infield.

Kyle Seager took advantage with a sharp grounder through the right side for an RBI single and a 2-0 lead. Shae Simmons replaced Avilan and ended the inning by striking out the next two hitters.

Medina and Rodney retired six straight over the final two innings.

The only run, prior to the eighth, came in the fourth inning after Robinson Cano and Romero led off with singles. Minor retired Seager and Mike Zunino, but Cole Gillespie lined a full-count fastball into left for a 1-0 lead.

Other than that, both starters dominated.

Minor matched a career high with 10 strikeouts when he got Gillespie swinging to end the sixth. Iwakuma retired 12 in a row after a leadoff single in the second inning.

Heyward ended Iwakuma’s streak with a single to open the sixth. Iwakuma retired the next three hitters. Iwakuma also worked around two singles in the seventh by getting Chris Johnson to ground into a double play.

“We scored first,” Iwakuma said, “and I just had to be patient and keep the ball down. I knew I needed to focus more than normal because of the heat. I was focusing on getting quick outs. I was able to do that.”

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