The Seattle Mariners offense lacks stars but has balance. The bullpen has control problems but also the power to erase mistakes. The defense has holes but patches them up with elite glovemen.
The rotation has Felix Hernandez but is easily identifiable as one of the team's most glaring weaknesses. It might turn out OK, but there are many questions to be answered.
We begin answering one such question tonight. What is Hisashi Iwakuma going to bring to the table as the team's number-two starter?
Iwakuma was famously the forgotten man to start 2012. Failing to make the rotation, it seemed as though he didn't have the trust of manager Eric Wedge. He didn't debut until the team's 15th game and only managed five appearances through his first two months in the big leagues. It was later revealed that it was a situation much like this spring's Erasmo Ramirez decision, only without Ramirez's minor league option; Iwakuma may not have been physically ready for regular use.
Once Iwakuma finally cracked the rotation in July he was somewhat of a revelation. 16 games started, 95 innings pitched, 7.39 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, 3.61 xFIP, and the Mariners appeared to have something in the 32-year-old rookie. His sinker was effective and his splitter was a legitimate weapon.
If Iwakuma could continue that line of production throughout the 2013 season I think we'd all be pleased with the Mariners' number-two. Unfortunately, it's never that simple. We don't know how representative that 95 inning sample was of his true ability. Furthermore, Iwakuma is another year older with the same health and durability concerns, and we have to expect that MLB teams have better scouting reports this time around.
Yesterday, Felix Hernandez shut down a lefty-heavy A's lineup with his sinker and splitter-esque changeup. Iwakuma will rely on the same pitches.
Meanwhile, the Mariners' big bats look to announce their arrival after a quiet Opening Day. They could have their hands full with Jarrod Parker, the former top prospect who played a major role in pushing Oakland to the playoffs last season as a rookie.