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Iwakuma rejoins Mariners in coaching role

@DKramer_
January 12, 2021

SEATTLE -- The Mariners are bringing back a familiar face, as the club announced Tuesday that it has hired former pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma as a special assignment coach. Iwakuma will report directly to general manager Jerry Dipoto. Heralded for his finesse on the mound and his tireless work ethic off

SEATTLE -- The Mariners are bringing back a familiar face, as the club announced Tuesday that it has hired former pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma as a special assignment coach. Iwakuma will report directly to general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Heralded for his finesse on the mound and his tireless work ethic off it, Iwakuma will work with pitchers and pitching instructors across all Minor League levels, in addition to spending time with the big league team. Iwakuma will also work with Mariners pro scout Manabu “Manny” Noto doing scouting work in his homeland of Japan, which could be a huge boon to an already strong Mariners’ presence overseas.

Iwakuma's new gig will begin at the start of Spring Training, when he’ll be tasked with helping bring along a very young and green group of Mariners pitchers -- and a veteran presence here can’t be overstated. Beyond No. 1 starter Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, who is entering his third MLB season, and Kendall Graveman, who is trying to bounce back from a benign tumor in a bullpen role, Seattle’s pitching staff is comprised of promising but unproven talent.

This won’t quite be Iwakuma’s first coaching job, either -- Iwakuma opened a performance academy in Japan in 2016 while he was still with the Mariners.

“Kuma has demonstrated throughout his career skills that we think will make him a perfect fit working with our coaches and players,” Dipoto said through a release from the team. “He was always prepared, has a terrific work ethic, and the ability to communicate the things that made him a successful pitcher. We’re looking forward to adding him to our mix at both the Major and Minor League level.”

The Tokyo native, who pitched in Nippon Professional Baseball for 11 seasons, could be an invaluable addition in this scouting arena for a Mariners club that has consistently had one of the stronger MLB imprints in Japan. Beyond signing Iwakuma in 2012, the club successfully signed Ichiro Suzuki in ‘00 and Kikuchi in ‘19, and it was believed to be the runner-up for Shohei Ohtani in ’17.

Iwakuma was among Japan’s top pitchers before joining Seattle as an international free agent in 2012, having won the Pacific League MVP Award in ’08. The right-hander retired from professional baseball in October after experiencing prolonged shoulder injuries, an issue that dated back to when he first signed with Seattle ahead of his age-31 season. His final appearances as a professional came for the Yomiuri Giants in '19.

But when healthy, Iwakuma was one of the Mariners’ most effective pitchers over his six seasons in Seattle (2012-17), going 63-39 with a 3.42 ERA in 150 games, including 136 starts. The ‘13 All-Star’s career ERA is tied for the lowest in club history (min. 500 innings) with Randy Johnson, Felix Hernandez and James Paxton. He was voted the most valuable Mariners pitcher in ’13 and ’16 by the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and he was a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award in ’13.

Iwakuma is most immortalized for throwing the fifth no-hitter in club history on Aug. 12, 2015, against Baltimore, when he joined Hideo Nomo as just the second Japanese-born pitcher to throw a no-no in the Majors.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.