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Originally published Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 5:54 PM

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Mariners' Hisashi Iwakuma settles in for strong start

After a rough first inning, Iwakuma retired 16 batters in a row and ultimately allowed just four hits in eight innings.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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CHICAGO — The second batter of the game doubled off Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma, then the fourth one hit a long home run.

But after that, the Japanese veteran retired 16 batters in a row to give his team a chance to win. Iwakuma allowed only four hits to the high-powered White Sox, striking out three and not walking anybody in a huge test of whether he'd be able to keep his pitches down in a ballpark that yields long balls by the bucketload.

"It's scary to pitch here because anything that goes up (in the air), there's a chance it can go out," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "The only thing we can do is keep the ball down and make them hit it on the ground. So, that's all I had in mind."

But even when Iwakuma made the pitches he wanted, one additional ball still wound up leaving the park in the seventh inning. Alex Rios ended Iwakuma's streak of retired batters by lining a ball over the wall in left center to tie the score at 3-3.

"We wanted to go in and we did go in," Iwakuma said. "But he still got to it, so you just have to tip your cap."

Of the four hits Iwakuma allowed, three were for extra bases. He left with a no-decision after eight innings.

Smoak slugging

with little to show

Justin Smoak continued to hit the ball hard with little to show for it. But things grew even more frustrating in the seventh inning when he led off with a line drive that scorched off the left field wall.

Left fielder Dayan Viciedo played the ball perfectly and threw Smoak out by a large margin at second base as he tried to stretch it into a double.

"It bounced right back to him and he made a good throw," Smoak said, shrugging his shoulders. "It's one in the same. I probably hit it a little too hard for my legs."

Smoak said he's optimistic about his potential despite his 3-for-18 (.167) numbers with no extra-base hits.

"I feel like I'm hitting the ball hard," he said. "My first at-bat today, I hit the ball hard and right to the center fielder. You've just got to go up there and keep grinding out at-bats."

Wedge discusses

Sunday strategy

Mariners manager Eric Wedge was asked before the game Sunday to explain his thinking in having Kelly Shoppach bunt in the fifth inning of Saturday's game with runners at first and second and none out.

The Mariners were leading by a run at the time and Shoppach wound up striking out.

"It's a combination of things," Wedge said. "One, you evaluate the inning. Do you want to go for the big inning, or do you want to try to play for maybe one run or a couple of runs? So, with where we were in the order with that matchup, kind of feeling the way the game was, which ended up being the way it ended up, I felt it was important for us to get a run or two right there. And that's why we did it.

"And that's something that Kelly (Shoppach) has done before. It's actually something he can do well," he added. "And there will be other times, as you've seen, where we'll let him swing away and see if we can put a bigger inning together. But I didn't think it was going to be that type of game yesterday."

An inning later, Wedge opted not to pinch-hit for Raul Ibanez versus a left-handed relief pitcher with two on, saying it was too early in the game. Wedge said his thinking in the two situations was nonetheless consistent and that he simply didn't want to pull Ibanez too early and weaken his bench opportunities later on.

He also didn't want to show a lack of faith in Ibanez this early in the season.

"The consistency is still there because, again, you know what type of game you're in, but with Raul (Ibanez), particularly this early in the year, or maybe Jason Bay or (Robert) Andino or whoever it may be, you want to give them additional opportunities to do stuff early on," Wedge said. "What you don't want is guys looking over their shoulder when they go to home plate."

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @gbakermariners.

Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners.

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