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Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma poised for long haul - Thursday 16th February, 2017

Mariners starter Felix Hernandez will look to begin the season on a high note as he starts Opening Day in Houston

"From my standpoint, it's big, because I like to get everyone involved in the game," Iwakuma said on Wednesday through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I rely on defense and we have great defense, infield and outfield, so I look forward to that. Speed doesn't go into any kind of slump, so it's very helpful from my end."

Iwakuma's terrific start SEA@LAA: Iwakuma holds Angels to one run over 6 1/3Hisashi Iwakuma holds the Angels to just one run on five hits while tallying two strikeouts over 6 1/3 terrific innings to earn win No. 16

Indeed, Iwakuma is primarily a pitch-to-contact hurler, who keeps hitters off balance with an array of offspeed offerings, effectively using his nasty splitter and sinker to counter a fastball that tops out at about 90 mph.

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His 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings were a career-low last season, but he went 16-12 with a 4.12 ERA over 199 innings and -- most important in his mind -- he stayed healthy for a full 33-start season.

"I'm very happy for that. That's what you want to do as a starter," said Iwakuma, who was limited to 20 starts in 2015 by a strained lat muscle. "Being able to do that, you help your team a lot. So I look forward to doing that again this year."

The Mariners need Iwakuma to be consistent as they challenge for the American League West title behind a rotation that is looking for a strong season from Felix Hernandez, continued improvement from James Paxton and added depth from newcomers Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo.

Ball in King's court King Felix is ready to twirl a gem on Opening DayMariners starter Felix Hernandez will look to begin the season on a high note as he starts Opening Day in Houston

Iwakuma arrived at camp ready to do his part.

"I think he wants to show people he can carry that workload. It's hard," manager Scott Servais said. "It's hard for him, especially where he's at in his career. We got more out of him than probably we expected, which is great. We certainly needed it and he wants to back it up again this year."

Servais acknowledged that Iwakuma might have tired down the stretch last season when he went 2-5 with a 4.96 ERA over his last nine starts after posting a 14-7 record and 3.84 ERA through mid-August. A rough outing in his finale against the A's in the season's last weekend (nine hits and five runs in 3 2/3 innings) pushed his ERA over the 4.00 mark.

"I didn't think too deeply overall on that," Iwakuma said. "I've had good Septembers, I've had bad Septembers. But overall, just going forward, that's another thing I have to work on, having a good September and finishing strong. That's what I hope for this year."

He also hopes to help take the Mariners to the postseason for the first time during his six years in Seattle.

"Every year is a challenge," he said. "Every year is different. We have a big challenge coming up for us this season with this team and we all look forward to that. We have a lot of hopes this year and that's all I can say. I'm very happy and excited for this team."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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