SEATTLE -- After starting the year as the seemingly forgotten man in the Mariners bullpen, former Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma is growing into an increasingly important role.
Iwakuma, who picked up his first victory of the season Saturday by pitching a scoreless sixth and seventh in a 7-4 victory over the Giants, will be used in more of a later-inning "bridge" role to the setup man and closer instead of strictly a long reliever now that Steve Delabar has been sent back to Triple-A Tacoma.
"Yes, that's something [pitching coach Carl Willis] and I talked about yesterday," manager Eric Wedge said. "That's why, for more reasons than one, yesterday was an important outing for him and for us. As you have seen, we've been ramping him up with the frequency and type of game he's pitching in."
After pitching in just four of Seattle's first 52 games, Iwakuma has been used in seven of the last 15 games over an 18-day span and has increasingly gained Wedge's trust. He's now 1-0 with a 4.01 ERA and two saves.
Most importantly, he's adjusted to pitching out of the bullpen and has been able to recover sooner than before after having been strictly a starter in Japan.
"Quicker than I expected," Wedge said of the 31-year-old's bounceback time. "As he's gone on, one, he's been getting ready a lot quicker, which I never would have thought. At the beginning of the year I thought I had to get him up the inning before and a few times I did, actually. And his resiliency has been a lot better, too, which is great."
Iwakuma, speaking through translator Daisuke Sekiba, said he's getting more comfortable in the bullpen.
"I've just made a routine and try to do it every time," he said. "The most important thing right now is just to calm down and try to pitch and keep a good tension and concentrate."
Both he and Sekiba received a beer shower from Mariners teammates as part of the traditional ritual for first-time winners after Saturday's game. Iwakuma seemed to enjoy the experience, even after a career in Japan when he went 107-69 with a 3.25 ERA as a 10-year starter.
"The Major League level is a different stage for me," he said. "So whatever situation I have, this first win is very important and I'm very happy. But if I can help get a win for the starter, I'm even happier."
Wilhelmsen holding down closer's role
SEATTLE -- About a week after saying Brandon League was close to returning to his closer's role, Mariners manager Eric Wedge acknowledged Sunday that it's not going to be easy doing that with the way Tom Wilhelmsen has performed since taking over that job.
Going into Sunday's series finale with San Francisco, Wilhelmsen has not allowed a run in his last 10 2/3 innings over eight outings, holding opposing batters to a .088 (3-for-34) batting average with 11 strikeouts. Wilhelmsen picked up his fourth save in Saturday's 7-4 win over the Giants.
"I don't think we can right now," Wedge said of making a change back to League. "But I like to have multiple options there for the ninth. Like I've told Leaguer already, when we get to the point where we're winning more games than we're losing, you're going to need other closers in your bullpen because if you're playing a lot of tight games, you can't run that guy out there five, six days a week. Ideally, that's our perfect situation."
As for Wilhelmsen?
"He's been very good, very consistent for us, with good stuff," Wedge said. "I like the way he's handled both right- and left-handers, which is obviously a key component for that role."
Luetge treading in rare territory
SEATTLE -- Among the 369 Major League pitchers who had thrown at least 15 innings going into Sunday's games, Mariners rookie Lucas Luetge was the only one who had yet to allow an earned run. Luetge has yet to allow an earned run in 16 2/3 innings over 25 appearances.
Since 1918, the only Major Leaguer to start a career with 25 scoreless appearances was Oakland's Brad Ziegler, with 29 in 2008.
It's an impressive feat for any pitcher, let alone a 25-year-old selected in the Rule 5 Draft who had never pitched above Double-A ball while in the Brewers organization.
"You would never ever expect something like this to play out," manager Eric Wedge said. "You figure it's a long shot to make the team when you Rule 5 somebody. Not only has he done that, he's been a great contributor to our bullpen in a specialty role.
"He's met every challenge so far. At some point in time, he'll have a bump in the road and we'll see how he handles that. But to this point in time, he's handled everything well. I don't think anybody could have expected what he's doing right now. Not this quick anyway."
Jesus Montero's first-inning home run off Tim Lincecum on Saturday was estimated at 445 feet by ESPN Home Run Tracker, which is tied for the 10th-longest in Safeco Field history and tied for sixth-longest by a Mariner. The only longer home run into the left-field upper deck was a 448-foot shot by Richie Sexson off Detroit's Chris Spurling on July 27, 2005.
Going into Sunday's game, the Mariners bullpen had thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings and leads the Majors in June with a 1.36 ERA.
When the Mariners got 12 hits Saturday, it was just the third time in 30 home games that they've reached double-digit hits. The seven runs tied for the second most at home this year.