Millwood, Iwakuma stake claims to roster spots

Millwood, Iwakuma stake claims to roster spots

Millwood, Iwakuma stake claims to roster spots
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood bolstered his bid for a starting spot in the Mariners' rotation on Tuesday, while Hisashi Iwakuma pitched three innings of shutout ball in relief in what might foreshadow his immediate future for Seattle.

Millwood, 37, gave up one run on four hits with no walks and five strikeouts in an 8-1 victory over the Reds at Goodyear Park. The non-roster invitee, who improved to 2-1 with a 3.21 ERA in four spring starts, has made a strong case for a rotation berth.

The Mariners like Millwood's veteran presence on a young team. The question has been whether he still can get Major League hitters out at this point in his career, and he looked good again Tuesday in that regard. Now the club must decide if it wants to bring the big right-hander on to the 40-man roster and make him part of the starting five coming out of camp.

Manager Eric Wedge said the team has some tough decisions to make in the next 24 hours before cutting the roster to 30 and heading to Japan on Thursday for a season-opening series with the A's.

For the first time, Wedge mentioned the possibility of Iwakuma pitching out of the bullpen. The former Japanese star gave up five hits in three innings to the Reds, but his fastball showed more life and he pitched his way out of trouble with three strikeouts and a double-play grounder in his final two frames.

"You talk about a couple veteran guys, obviously with a much different background," Wedge said. "But we wanted to take a look at Iwakuma out of the bullpen today and we wanted them both to pitch in this 'A' game. I was impressed with the way they both handled everything, the way Millwood controlled the ballgame and, obviously, Iwakuma coming in a different role."

Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas have the top two starting spots, while Hector Noesi appears a lock for the third spot. That leaves Millwood, Iwakuma, Blake Beavan and young Erasmo Ramirez competing for the final two berths.

Beavan has been strong all spring and Ramirez threw three scoreless innings in a Minor League start Tuesday, giving up four hits with no walks and three strikeouts while continuing his strong showing.

"We're looking at everything right now," Wedge said. "We're going to discuss everything when we get back tonight. Obviously we're getting down to crunch time. In reality, the next 24 hours we have to decide what we're going to do. We've had a lot of conversations this morning with guys. Most understand where they're going to be and if they're coming with us, but we still have some decisions to make."

Millwood made his case again Tuesday and will wait and see what happens next.

"I feel like I've improved every time out," said the man with 163 Major League victories on his resume. "The rest of it is not up to me. I feel like I've worked hard and done everything I can. But some things, there's no control over."