Iwakuma getting comfortable in bullpen

Iwakuma getting comfortable in bullpen

SEATTLE -- After starting the year as the seemingly forgotten man in the Mariners bullpen, former Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma is growing into an increasingly important role.

Iwakuma, who picked up his first victory of the season Saturday by pitching a scoreless sixth and seventh in a 7-4 victory over the Giants, will be used in more of a later-inning "bridge" role to the setup man and closer instead of strictly a long reliever now that Steve Delabar has been sent back to Triple-A Tacoma.

"Yes, that's something [pitching coach Carl Willis] and I talked about yesterday," manager Eric Wedge said. "That's why, for more reasons than one, yesterday was an important outing for him and for us. As you have seen, we've been ramping him up with the frequency and type of game he's pitching in."

After pitching in just four of Seattle's first 52 games, Iwakuma has been used in seven of the last 15 games over an 18-day span and has increasingly gained Wedge's trust. He's now 1-0 with a 4.01 ERA and two saves.

Most importantly, he's adjusted to pitching out of the bullpen and has been able to recover sooner than before after having been strictly a starter in Japan.

"Quicker than I expected," Wedge said of the 31-year-old's bounceback time. "As he's gone on, one, he's been getting ready a lot quicker, which I never would have thought. At the beginning of the year I thought I had to get him up the inning before and a few times I did, actually. And his resiliency has been a lot better, too, which is great."

Iwakuma, speaking through translator Daisuke Sekiba, said he's getting more comfortable in the bullpen.

"I've just made a routine and try to do it every time," he said. "The most important thing right now is just to calm down and try to pitch and keep a good tension and concentrate."

Both he and Sekiba received a beer shower from Mariners teammates as part of the traditional ritual for first-time winners after Saturday's game. Iwakuma seemed to enjoy the experience, even after a career in Japan when he went 107-69 with a 3.25 ERA as a 10-year starter.

"The Major League level is a different stage for me," he said. "So whatever situation I have, this first win is very important and I'm very happy. But if I can help get a win for the starter, I'm even happier."