Hisashi Iwakuma is clearly not a quick worker. All last season, the Japanese native took his time getting the sign, coming set, and finally beginning his windup. He particularly slowed down when he was in the stretch, and by the end of the year, you could pretty much bank on either Dave Sims or Mike Blowers warning that Iwakuma's deliberate pace threatened to lull his defense to sleep. I'm not sure I buy it: the Mariners are professional baseball players, and most professionals don't fall asleep at work. I think it's more likely that Sims and Blowers put in long days for each game and neither is in much of a mood to watch Iwakuma stretch his arms and adjust his belt several times after they've already spent five hours on the job.
But while Mariner fielders might not fall asleep at their positions, players still don't love a slow pitcher. A methodical worker knocks players out of their rhythm, and the slower tempo is particularly unwelcome at the end of spring training. Iwakuma knows this, and for today's game, he worked out a solution.
Iwakuma decided that, with the opposition's blessing, he'd work faster in exchange for their willingness to deliberately hit pop ups and weak grounders. He called Chicago's clubhouse in advance of the game to share the plan, and to his delight, it was met with general enthusiasm. Together, they figured that this was spring training, after all, and that all parties would benefit from a nice, quick game. Iwakuma could have a successful final start, and Chicago could go home to their families a little early. It was a win-win for everybody, and Iwakuma arrived at the park today fully intending to do his best Mark Buehrle impersonation.
Early in the game, though, he realized something was wrong. Chicago wasn't swinging feebly early in the count. Instead the Cubs were lacing the ball. They were knocking line drives and base hits. Iwakuma was confused, but he continued with his plan into the third inning. That frame, Arismendy Alcantara tripled, Steve Clevenger singled, and Timothy Saunders lined out. It wasn't until Alfonso Soriano homered, though, that Iwakuma realized his dilemma: in his haste to unleash his master plan, he had called the wrong clubhouse. He had accidentally phoned the Chicago White Sox, not the Chicago Cubs. Thus, while Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn, and company had all liked the cut of Iwakuma's jib, Soriano and his teammates were playing straight up.
Iwakuma could only chuckle while Soriano rounded the bases. "Silly me," he thought to himself. Knowing that he wouldn't have any help from the Cubs, Iwakuma then reverted to his usual, leisurely form, and retired the final four batters he faced, two by strikeout.
Following Iwakuma's departure the M's tacked on six runs to win 6-4. To the bullets!
- I'm still a little surprised that the Mariners are using Jesus Montero as the starting catcher. His receiving looks good for the most part, but he's a fire hydrant on balls in the dirt. The Cubs took a ton of extra bases on Montero today, and even though some of those were nominally wild pitches, a starting backstop has to do better. If Mike Zunino isn't overmatched at Triple-A, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's up by mid-June.
- Speaking of bad defense, I wonder how often we'll see Raul Ibanez in the outfield this year. He started in left this afternoon, and given that Eric Wedge has played Alex Liddi and Mike Carp in the outfield before, it appears he has a high tolerance for watching butchers in corner outfield spots.
- Worth noting that Endy Chavez and Jason Bay were both mid-inning defensive replacements while Casper Wells was MIA. There's a small part of me holding out hope that Wells still makes this team, but I'm getting more discouraged by the day.
- Kameron Loe, Lucas Luetge, and Carter Capps all threw out of the bullpen in either their penultimate or final tune-up before the season. Capps looks dirty when he's near the zone. He retired the side in order in the eighth, inducing a weak grounder, a pop up, and a whiff on a nasty slider.
- Mike Curto reported yesterday that farmhand Nick Hill is pitching agin. Hill, who you might remember as a dark horse to make the club out of the spring in 2010, has had his career decimated by injuries over the past two seasons. It's encouraging to hear that he's throwing again, and Curto suggests there's a chance the lefty reaches Tacoma this year.
- If Michael Saunders had hit .209/.222/.435 last spring (instead of the .358/.396/.533 mark he actually posted) do you think he'd have made the team? Would he even be in the Mariner organization at this point? I hope so, and I'd like to think that Saunders's physical improvements would have been obvious even without statistical support, but I don't really know.
- Michael Morse hit his ninth dinger, setting the club's spring training record for home runs.
- Do big league pitchers get mad when guys like Nate Tenbrink and Chris Taylor get hits against them? On the one hand, it's spring training, and results are secondary. On the other, Tenbrink and Taylor don't even have names on the back of their jerseys. Either way, both players hit .400+ in limited action this spring, and that must be a nice confidence boost heading into the season.
- Kelly Shoppach might replace Brendan Ryan as the club's biggest bat-tosser. We're dealing with miniscule sample sizes, and I don't want to get carried away with spring training numbers, but I've watched about twelve innings this March and I've seen Shoppach fling his stick into the crowd twice.
- No game tomorrow. The Mariners play their final contest of the spring Saturday at noon. Root Sports will have the call when the M's take on the Rockies in Salt Lake City.