Hisashi Iwakuma had plenty of options.
Why Seattle? The 11-year veteran of the Japanese major leagues had a number of big league suitors this winter. He chose to wear a Mariners uniform a year after he couldnt work out a deal with the Oakland Athletics.
Credit Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and the dinner he had with Iwakuma in December.
“The moment I knew I wanted to play here came at dinner with the general manager, Iwakuma said Sunday at Safeco Field when he was introduced to media and fans who showed up for the second day of the clubs annual FanFest.
“It felt right and I felt that I was wanted as a starter. That feeling came from Jack.
Nothing since has altered that view.
“Yesterday I arrived at the airport, Iwakuma said, “and it felt right. The first time I visited Seattle, it felt good. I like the club. I like the city. It feels to me like Sendai.
Sendai, a coastal city with a population of more than one million that was struck hard by the earthquake/tsunami March 11, 2001, is home to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Iwakuma’s team from 2005-2011, going 65-48. That included a 6-7 record and 2.42 ERA in an injury-troubled 2011 season. His first four years were spent with Kintetsu, for which he was 42-21.
In his local debut Sunday, Iwakuma did most of his talking in Japanese, with the clubs resident Japanese expert Antony Suzuki doing the interpreting.
But he introduced himself in English.
“Im Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners, he said. “Im here to help the team.
Apparently the media lessons dished out by the Kevin Costner character in “Bull Durham” have made it across the Pacific.
Iwakuma made it clear he is looking forward to learning English. He will have the option to speak in Japanese, however, because right fielder Ichiro and utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki will be on the roster.
Iwakuma had dinner recently in Japan with Ichiro, a player he has known since the two were on Team Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, a trophy taken home by the Japanese.
Iwakuma got a call from Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, another veteran of the Japan-to-Major League Baseball transition, who said he was ready to help ease Iwakumas move.
“He told me that if I had any questions about pitching here at all to give him a call, Iwakuma said.
The American game differs in that starters go every fifth day. In Japan, it’s six days.
“My goal here is to throw seven innings and 100 pitches every time out, Iwakuma said. “Id like to take advantage of my 11 years of experience and put my knowledge and pitching (and use it) to the best of my ability.
“Whats important is to be able to communicate with the pitching coach.
What of the shoulder issues that limited him to 17 starts last year? Iwakuma said he is healthy.
“I know my body very well, he said. “Im going to need to be able to communicate with the trainer; its going to be real important so that he knows, too.
It shouldnt be an issue for Griffin. Over the years the Mariners have had a number of Japanese pitchers, including Mac Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Suzuki made nine starts in 1998-99, but the rest of his 20 appearances came as a reliever, and Sasaki and Hasegawa were strictly relievers.
“Today is the first day I have met any of my (new) teammates, Iwakuma said. Vargas and Seattle closer Brandon League were among the Mariners in attendance Sunday. “Im looking forward to pitching here.
Iwakuma, his wife and their two children will spend the next few days looking for a place to live in the area. After that, theyll head to Arizona and nail down housing for spring training, which starts Feb. 11.
“Im concerned about putting up good numbers,” he said. “Ive got a strong feeling this will be good.