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Iwakuma feels more confident on mound


PHOENIX -- It was only one inning and 15 pitches, but Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma said he's feeling much stronger and more confident as he sets out on his second season.

Iwakuma, 31, struggled early in Spring Training last year after signing as a free agent out of Japan and wound up beginning the year in the bullpen before emerging as a solid starter in the second half. But he's penciled into Seattle's rotation from the get-go this year and eager to get rolling after setting the top of the Brewers' lineup down in order on three ground balls in Tuesday's 6-5 win.

"It felt great," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki after retiring Norichika Aoki, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun. "It gives me a lot of confidence, because I like to keep the ball on the ground and not up in the air. I wanted to take advantage of my two-seam and split finger when I was ahead in the count, and I was able to do that. So it was good."

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Iwakuma said he worked hard over the offseason to be ready sooner this spring.

"I feel a lot stronger than where I was last year, and I'm very comfortable with my strength," he said. "I started a lot earlier than I have in my past. Not just my arm, but I've been working on my core training, and that's helped a lot.

"I do feel a difference, especially when I'm throwing my fastball. That pitch is low in the strike zone, and I feel it's a lot sharper than before."

Manager Eric Wedge liked what he saw from the right-hander.

"He's been throwing the ball well all camp," Wedge said. "He's strong, the ball is jumping out of his hand and he has good action on all of his pitches."

The biggest difference for Iwakuma now that he's back for a second season in the Majors?

"The first year you don't know what will happen," Iwakuma said. "You don't know what your routine will look like. You don't know your left from right, as opposed to this year when you know what to expect and when to be ready for a game, so that makes it a lot easier."

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