Twins handcuffed by Seattle’s “other ace”

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins thought they lucked out by not having to face Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in this weekend’s three-game series.

It turns out Hernandez may have been a welcomed sight at Target Field.

Instead, the Twins were shut down by Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma. The 32-year-old right-hander blanked Minnesota for 7 2/3 innings as the Mariners won Friday’s series opener 3-0.

“Their guy was pretty good,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Iwakuma. “There’s a lot of movement. You talk to hitters, his ball disappears. He’s got a great splitter and his fastball, he can locate it in and out.”

It wasn’t the first time Iwakuma has had Minnesota’s number. Friday marked the third time he’s faced the Twins in his two seasons with the Mariners. He entered Friday’s start having gone 2-0 in those two starts during the 2012 season. He also had not allowed an earned run in 13 innings while strikeout out 10 and walking five.

Friday Iwakuma extended his streak against the Twins to 20 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. Minnesota certainly had chances, though. In the third inning, right fielder Chris Parmelee was on third base after his leadoff double was followed by a Pedro Florimon single. Jamey Carroll then bounced one up the middle that was fielded by Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan.

Parmelee headed for home on contact and Ryan’s throw beat Parmelee to the plate. Despite Parmelee’s efforts to lodge the ball free from catcher Jesus Sucre with a collision, Sucre held on to keep the Twins scoreless and help preserve Iwakuma’s streak of zero unearned runs allowed.

“I was just a hair late leaving,” Parmelee said. “Ryan made a pretty good play at shortstop. He was blocking most of the plate. … I was originally going to slide and then I saw him standing right in front of home plate. Zero-zero ballgame, trying to make something happen.”

Minnesota again looked as if it might finally get to Iwakuma in the fifth inning, and Parmelee and Florimon were involved in the action yet again. Parmelee drew a one-out walk — one of the two issued by Iwakuma — and Florimon later came to the plate with two outs. Florimon’s slicing drive down the left field line bounced into the seats for a ground rule double, leaving Parmelee at third.

Parmelee said he believed he would have scored if the ball stayed in play. Instead, he was stranded on third when Carroll tapped back to Iwakuma to end the Twins’ second scoring threat of the game against the Seattle starter.

“Just an unlucky bounce right there,” Parmelee said.

Minnesota finally chased Iwakuma after 7 2/3 innings and 88 pitches, but he ended his night without allowing an earned run. As the Mariners bullpen preserved the 3-0 lead, Iwakuma improved to a perfect 3-0 against the Twins in three career starts.

Everyone talks about Hernandez, the former Cy Young winner and ace of the staff, when talking about the Mariners’ rotation — and rightfully so. But Iwakuma perhaps deserves to be a part of those talks.

With Friday’s performance, he inserted himself into the conversation. Iwakuma improved to a team-best 6-1 on the year and lowered his already-impressive ERA to 2.13 in 12 starts. He now has 74 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 80 1/3 innings on the year.

Hernandez may still be Seattle’s ace, but Iwakuma isn’t far behind him this season. The Twins found that out the hard way Friday.

“He had some really good stuff,” said Parmelee, one of the few Twins batters who actually got a hit off Iwakuma. “He threw the heck out of that split-finger tonight. Timely hits, some hits we could have gotten and put some runs on the board.”

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