CINCINNATI — Hisashi Iwakuma played in three all-star games in Japan, starting one of them. The extent of his experience with MLB’s Mid-Summer Classic, he said, is limited to watching the highlights on TV.
But Iwakuma said that when Mariners manager Eric Wedge gathered the team before Saturday’s game to inform them that Iwakuma and teammate Felix Hernandez had made the American League All-Star team, it was one of the biggest thrills of his career.
“You can see my smile,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I was very, very happy. I was very nervous at the same time.”
Comparing this selection with his previous ones with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Iwakuma indicated that this was a bigger honor.
“There’s a big difference being an All-Star in Japan and being an All-Star here in the major leagues,” he said. “This is a much bigger league and we have all the elite players and all the talent. That’s above NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball), so there’s a special meaning to that.”
Hernandez, meanwhile, made the AL squad for the fourth time. Both pitchers were among the five starters selected in balloting by the players, with Hernandez receiving the second-most votes (253) behind Detroit’s Max Scherzer (351). They were followed by Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox (234), Yu Darvish of the Rangers (222) and Iwakuma (147).
“I’m very happy because we face these players, and that kind of shows they acknowledge what kind of pitcher I am,” Iwakuma said.
Hernandez added of the player vote, “That’s awesome. It feels special. It’s an honor to be part of the All-Star Game again. It’s always fun.”
And being accompanied by Iwakuma to the July 16 game at Citi Field in New York?
“He deserved it, man,” Hernandez said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the American League. He should be there. For sure.”
Iwakuma is scheduled to start for the Mariners the Sunday before the All-Star Game. MLB rules say he can choose to pitch one inning in the All-Star Game, but American League manager Jim Leyland has already said that he will not use anyone who pitches Sunday. Wedge said he approves of that stance. “I do back that,” he said. “Jim’s a smart guy. He’s not going to put anyone in harm’s way.”
It’s possible that Iwakuma could be replaced on the active roster but still participate fully in the festivities and be in uniform during the game. That’s what happened to Hernandez last year, but this time his final outing before the break is scheduled for Saturday.
“I think I’ll be able to pitch (in the All-Star Game),” Hernandez said.
Iwakuma has the lowest earned-run average in the American League (2.60), followed by Hernandez at No. 2 (2.69). Iwakuma also has the lowest WHIP in the AL (0.88) to go with a 7-4 record. Hernandez is 8-4 and ranks fourth in the AL with 130 strikeouts.
“You are talking about masters of consistency,” Wedge said. “You just feel good when they go out there.”