Iwakuma more confident, relaxed in camp

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw three scoreless innings of one-hit ball in Thursday's 12-2 victory over the Royals as he continued a strong start to his second spring with the Mariners.

Iwakuma, 31, knows he's part of Seattle's rotation plans this spring and the former Japanese standout appears much more settled in his Cactus League outings this year.

He's allowed just three hits and one run in six innings over his first three appearances, with no walks and three strikeouts.

"I feel a lot stronger this year," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I came prepared. Last year was a little different story for me. This year, I know I'm in the starting rotation, so I started a lot earlier than I did last year and that's helped me a lot."

Iwakuma replaced Felix Hernandez in the third inning and shut down a Royals team that was unbeaten in its first 12 games this spring. After a one-out double by Alex Gordon in the third, Iwakuma retired the last eight batters he faced.

"I felt great today," he said. "I thought I pitched in a good rhythm, I got in a good groove and was able to keep balls down in the strike zone. The outs were mostly all groundouts, so that's a good sign."

Iwakuma and Hernandez pitched against the Royals on the split-squad day since Seattle wanted to keep them away from division-rival Oakland in the other game. Pitching coach Carl Willis liked what he saw from both and acknowledged that Iwakuma is much better this spring than last.

"He's stronger," Willis said. "He's pitching with a lot of confidence. We saw so many ground balls today and a good curveball as well, which was very good to see."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.