No one has been tougher to get on base against in the AL than Hisashi Iwakuma .
This could present problems for an Oakland Athletics team struggling at the plate.
The Seattle Mariners right-hander will try to send the Athletics a season-high fifth straight loss Friday night in the opener of a weekend series at Safeco Field.
Iwakuma (3-1, 1.61 ERA) has been among baseball's biggest surprises, leading the AL in opponent batting average (.168) and walks plus hits per inning pitched (0.76).
He uncharacteristically walked three Saturday but yielded one run over seven innings to gain an 8-1 victory at Toronto.
Seattle (16-19) has won his last five starts at home, including three this year in which Iwakuma has posted a 0.48 ERA. His stellar season began April 2 when he allowed one run over six innings with seven strikeouts in a 7-1 victory at Oakland, winning for the first time in three starts against the Athletics.
Slugger Yoenis Cespedes is 3 for 6 with two solo homers against Iwakuma. He and the Athletics (18-18) travel west after totaling eight runs and batting .205 while being swept in four games in Cleveland, capped by Thursday's 9-2 loss.
"They're playing great and can't do anything wrong and we're struggling," manager Bob Melvin said. "That's what happens."
Cespedes homered in the first game of the series before going 1 for 11 with four strikeouts in the final three. Jed Lowrie was 2 for 15 in the series, Derek Norris 2 for 11, John Jaso 2 for 10 and Eric Sogard 2 for 9 for the A's, who have seven players on the disabled list.
Oakland is batting .218 and averaging 2.6 runs in May, and Seattle can relate somewhat to those woes. The Mariners are hitting a major league-worst .199 this month, although they are 4-2.
Seattle has been winning thanks to mound efforts like Wednesday's by Felix Hernandez , who went eight innings as the Mariners avoided a third straight loss with a 2-1 victory at Pittsburgh.
While Hernandez is the unquestioned ace of the staff, Iwakuma is developing a reputation of his own that has given Seattle confidence.
"They're unbelievable," second baseman Dustin Ackley told the Mariners' official website. "Any time you go out there, you're like, 'Let's just get a couple runs and these guys are going to cruise.' They are probably, arguably, right now the two best starters in baseball."
Oakland has won all three games started by Daniel Straily (1-0, 5.94), who takes the mound Friday after giving up three runs over 5 1-3 innings and not getting a decision in Sunday's 5-4 victory over the Yankees.
The right-hander yielded four runs over 4 1-3 innings in his lone start against Seattle on Sept. 29. He also yielded two homers in five 2012 at-bats to Kendrys Morales , then with the Angels.
These clubs split their season-opening four-game set in Oakland. Lowrie went 6 for 13 with four doubles while Michael Morse was 6 for 16 with four homers for the Mariners.
Oakland has taken the last four meetings in Seattle.
|May 07, 2013||Josh Reddick||15-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|May 07, 2013||Josh Reddick||Day-to-Day||Sore right wrist|
|May 06, 2013||Jarrod Parker||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained neck|
|May 01, 2013||Brett Anderson||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|April 30, 2013||Chris Young||15-Day DL||Strained left quad|
|April 30, 2013||Coco Crisp||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|April 23, 2013||Franklin Gutierrez||15-Day DL||Strained right hamstring|
|April 22, 2013||Franklin Gutierrez||Day-to-Day||Torn right hamstring|
|April 15, 2013||Stephen Pryor||15-Day DL||Torn right lat muscle|
|April 12, 2013||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Fractured finger|
|April 11, 2013||Michael Saunders||15-Day DL||Sprained right shoulder|
|April 11, 2013||Michael Saunders||15-Day DL||Sprained right shoulder|
SEATTLE (AP) -- With the blister on a finger of his pitching hand fully healed, Hisashi Iwakuma felt he could throw basically any pitch he wanted in an impressive seven innings.
It looked much the same as his previous starts.
Iwakuma retired 16 straight over one stretch, Raul Ibanez homered for the first time in nearly a month and the Seattle Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.
"He repeats. He's so consistent with his delivery, his arm action, his arm slot, release point, it's tough to see what is coming out," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "That's what you have to do. If you're going to be a solid starting pitcher up here you've got to do that."
Iwakuma (4-1) took a one-hitter into the sixth inning before running into trouble, putting together another strong outing to help cement himself and Felix Hernandez as one of the top rotation duos in baseball. Iwakuma has allowed five earned runs over his last five starts, and the number could have been even smaller if not for a scoring change that ended up tagging him with two earned runs against the A's.
Overshadowed by Hernandez, the ace of the Mariners staff, Iwakuma has been nearly as solid this season. He's pitched at least six innings in seven of eight starts despite being bothered by a lingering blister on his pitching hand, and has not allowed more than three earned runs in any start.
"Those two have just been on another level," Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager said. "Everybody knows Felix, obviously, but (Iwakuma) he's been flying under the radar a little bit but he's been just as impressive. It's been pretty fun to play behind those two especially."
Iwakuma gave up a solid leadoff single to right field to John Jaso and then was unhittable for the next five innings. He set down 15 straight with remarkable ease, through a combination of broken bats, weak groundballs and lazy flies. He struck out Yoenis Cespedes to close the first, struck out Derek Norris and Jaso in the third and retired Josh Donaldson and Daric Barton swinging to end the fifth.
Iwakuma's streak finally ended at 16 straight retired when Eric Sogard reached on an infield single - originally ruled an error - with one-out in the sixth inning. His groundball bounced off the arm of shortstop Brendan Ryan and Sogard reached without a throw. Jaso followed with a bloop single, and the A's finally got to Iwakuma on Jed Lowrie 's two-out, two-run double into the right-field corner. Lowrie had just one RBI in his previous 17 games before the double.
The scoring change cost Iwakuma a chance to have his ERA dip below Hernandez's for the best in the American League. Instead, Iwakuma's ERA rose from 1.61 to 1.74. He gave up four hits, struck out nine and walked none. Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth for his 10th save.
"It's a mental relief being able to pitch with that much of a big lead is big for myself, so being able to pitch with a better rhythm helped me be able to go through seven innings," Iwakuma said through an interpreter.
Seattle scored twice in the first off Oakland starter Dan Straily (1-1). Seattle broke the game open with Ibanez's three-run homer in the third inning that came with two outs. Oakland lost its season-high fifth straight and dipped below .500 since starting the season 1-2. The A's fell to 2-6 on their current 10-game road trip and only once has Oakland scored more than three runs.
"Everybody has to pick everybody up and we're not doing that right now," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.
Straily struggled to get through five innings, but didn't get help from his defense starting in the first inning that led to two runs. Kendrys Morales ' chopper to left side bounced past both third baseman Josh Donaldson and Lowrie at shortstop to put runners at the corners with one out instead of a possible inning-ending double play. Michael Morse followed with an RBI single and Justin Smoak lined an RBI double to give Iwakuma an early lead.
Seattle's runs in the third also came thanks to a fortunate bounce. Seager reached on an infield single that spun awkwardly off the end of his bat. Straily gave up a two-out walk to Smoak that proved costly when Ibanez turned on a 1-1 pitch for his third homer of the season and first since April 14.
"It's always nice to contribute and the last few games I've played I guess have been better," Ibanez said.
NOTES: Seattle improved to 16-8 this season when its starting pitcher works at least six innings. They are 1-11 when the starter fails to get through six. ... Seager scored three of the four times he reached base. ... Oakland's Derek Norris hit a solo homer, his first of the season, in the eighth off Seattle reliever Oliver Perez .