Iwakuma makes season debut for Mariners in Houston
(SportsNetwork.com) - Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will make his 2014 debut, as the Seattle Mariners take on the Houston Astros in the second part of a three-game set at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros escaped the series opener with a 5-4 victory thanks to George Springer, who drove in the game-winning run in the 11th inning for the hosts. Although Houston finished just 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position, it still managed to overcome a 4-3 deficit after blowing a 2-0 lead.
Springer is hitting only .180 with no home runs, five RBI and 23 strikeouts in 61 appearances at the plate. The Astros' cleanup hitter still has the faith of his manager Bo Porter.
"Things like that can definitely get you going and you take off," Porter said. "You watch George, and even through his struggles tonight, there was never a doubt in his mind. He continues to battle and ends up at the plate with the bases loaded and the game on the line and ends up coming up with the big hit."
Second baseman Jose Altuve is leading Houston with a .289 batting average and no other every day player is hitting above the .250 mark. The Astros could certainly use a more consistent effort from Springer, Dexter Fowler and Matt Dominguez, as they are ranked 30th in the MLB with a .213 team batting average.
Houston, which faced Seattle ace Felix Hernandez on Friday, will now look to capture its second win in a row after a two-game slide. The Mariners will be taking aim at their fourth win in five outings as Iwakuma makes his first start of the season. The 2013 All-Star selection went 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA last year and made a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma last weekend.
"It wasn't easy," Iwakuma said Friday through an interpreter after allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits over four innings. "I've never been in this kind of situation before, but at the same time you don't want to lose your focus. I'm happy to be here and starting again."
Iwakuma is expected to be limited to roughly 90 pitches on Saturday. He is joining the Mariners' staff that ranks third in the American League with a combined 3.57 ERA. Seattle's offense has not been as efficient through 27 games, ranking 27th in the MLB in batting average at .230 and just 26th in total runs scored with 105.
Robinson Cano is hitting a team-best .283 in his inaugural season with the Mariners, while third baseman Kyle Seager is pacing the club with five home runs, 15 RBI and 11 walks.
Seattle could receive a boost on Saturday from Corey Hart, who is batting just .226 with 19 strikeouts in 84 at-bats. Hart is 3-for-9 with a pair of homers and four RBI versus Astros' starter Dallas Keuchel in his career.
Keuchel enters the weekend after four consecutive quality starts. In his last outing, the 26-year-old southpaw took a no-decision after surrendering three runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings in Houston's 7-6 win over Oakland.
"Just felt sluggish out of the gate," Keuchel said. "That's not like me, but you're not going to feel your best every time out. Feel like I was lucky to get out of it with two runs."
Keuchel outdueled Hernandez in his previous start to help the Astros pick up a 7-2 victory at Safeco Field on April 21.
Houston has defeated Seattle in three of four meetings this year.
05/03 11:01:40 ET