After missing the first month of the season, Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma has picked up right where he left off last year.
Looking to win a career-best fifth consecutive start, Iwakuma takes the mound opposite David Price as the Mariners continue a three-game home set against the slumping Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Iwakuma (2-0, 2.45 ERA) has given the Mariners (20-18) a huge lift since returning from a torn tendon in his finger suffered during spring training. The right-hander allowed four runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 9-8 win at Houston in his season debut May 3, then scattered four hits and struck out seven over eight innings to beat Kansas City 1-0 on Thursday.
"He's getting better each and every time out," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I think if you asked him, there's a lot more in there. There's a lot of room for improvement, but that just goes to show how good he really is."
Iwakuma has posted a 1.17 ERA in winning four consecutive outings dating to last year, when he went 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA and finished third in AL Cy Young voting.
"Obviously, he has great stuff," Royals outfielder Alex Gordon told MLB's official website. "His numbers speak for themselves. ... He's got a pretty good changeup and a split-finger that's pretty good. So you can't get behind on him and expect to be successful."
Iwakuma has compiled a 3.86 ERA while going without a decision in two starts against Tampa Bay (16-23). He would appear to have a favorable matchup against a Rays team that's dropped six of seven after falling 12-5 in Monday's series opener.
"We got ambushed," manager Joe Maddon said after his team gave up nine runs in the first three innings Monday. "We just sashayed into the canyon and they were firing from both sides."
Seattle has won 13 of 18 after putting together its highest run total of the year. Rookie outfielder Stefen Romero went 3 for 5 with a homer and three RBIs while Justin Smoak and Mike Zunino also went deep.
"You could say we're the table-setters," said Romero, whose team improved to 15-2 when scoring at least five runs. "Especially early on ... and it kept snowballing."
The Mariners will try to stay hot against Price (3-3, 4.53), who is hoping to avoid losing a third straight decision after yielding three runs and nine hits over five-plus innings in Thursday's 3-1 defeat to Baltimore.
"I lost," he said after serving up another long ball. "Absolutely frustrating."
The former AL Cy Young Award winner has struck out 58 and walked just six over 53 2-3 innings, but his nine home runs allowed are tied for third-most in the majors. He served up 16 homers in 27 starts last season.
The left-hander yielded four runs over seven innings in a 5-4 walkoff win over Seattle on Aug. 14 in his only appearance in the series. Robinson Cano went 15 for 57 with just three extra-base hits against Price while with the Yankees.
Price will need to be careful against Kyle Seager, who is batting .423 with six homers and 14 RBIs during a seven-game stretch at home. Seager is 3 for his last 30 with 10 strikeouts against Tampa Bay despite collecting two hits Monday.
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