NEW YORK -- Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have been one of the best one-two pitching tandems in baseball so far this season, and Hernandez, the Mariners' ace, is thrilled to have company atop the rotation.
Heading into Tuesday's series opener against the Yankees, started by Seattle's ace, Hernandez (1.53) and Iwakuma (1.74) ranked first and third, respectively, in the American League in ERA and had combined to allow just four runs in their last three starts.
Iwakuma will try to improve to 5-1 on Wednesday against the Yankees' Phil Hughes. Hernandez has been among the biggest fans of his Japanese teammate's success.
"Oh man, that's unbelievable," Hernandez said. "He's doing great, and I'm happy for him. I know he's got the talent. He's dealing. His stuff is pretty good. You see it on TV, and his fastball is actually going up. It's crazy. I like it."
Iwakuma has said he watches and learns from Hernandez. Does that work in reverse as well? Can Hernandez pick things up from how Iwakuma pitches to hitters?
"We have kind of the same stuff," Hernandez said. "His split is kind of like my changeup, and his fastball is kind of like my sinker. So, I don't know. Maybe yes, maybe no."
In return to Bronx, Ibanez focuses on present
NEW YORK -- Raul Ibanez returned on Tuesday to Yankee Stadium, where his postseason heroics a year ago were memorable both for himself and Yankees fans. But the 40-year-old outfielder wasn't getting caught up in the past as he prepared to face CC Sabathia in the opening game of a three-game series with his Mariners.
"It was definitely a lot of fun to be a part of that," Ibanez said before hitting a two-run homer off Sabathia in his third at-bat of Seattle's 4-3 loss. "Winning is always fun, and being a part of something like that was definitely special and a time I'll always remember. But it has very little to do with anything that happens in today's game. This is a new day, a new season, a new game. And if I'm thinking about the past, then I'm not focusing on today. It's great to be back, and it's going to be better if we can win the series."
Ibanez hit 19 home runs and 62 RBIs last year in 384 at-bats during his one season with the Yankees, then signed a one-year deal to return to Seattle for a third time. He's played for the Mariners, Royals, Phillies and Yankees in his 18-year career and is definitely glad to have added New York to his resume.
"It was a great experience to be part of it and play in Yankee Stadium," Ibanez said. "As a kid growing up, you watch games in Yankee Stadium. I grew up watching Reggie Jackson and Bucky Dent and Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly, so being able to be part of that tradition, I had a great time. I really did, and I enjoyed it. And now I'm here and I'm trying to beat them."
Ibanez got the start on Tuesday, even against the left-handed Sabathia. After a 1-for-23 slump dropped his batting average as low as .148, Ibanez entered Tuesday having gone 5-for-13 over his last six games to inch his average up to .194.
"I think I've been better the last four games or so that I've played," Ibanez said. "I've put some good swings together, I've hit some balls hard, I've got some hits. I'm feeling better. I'm working on some stuff, and I think I'm ready."
Wedge cites matchups in resting Ackley, Smoak
NEW YORK -- On Tuesday, second baseman Dustin Ackley wasn't in the starting lineup for the second time in as many games as the Mariners opened a nine-day road trip, but manager Eric Wedge said that was strictly about playing matchups against Yankees standout CC Sabathia.
Wedge made a few moves with his lineup, opting not to start first baseman Justin Smoak or catcher Jesus Montero as well, while getting veteran Raul Ibanez in at designated hitter and using Robert Andino at second base. Brendan Ryan started at shortstop.
"It's more of a matchup thing than anything," Wedge said. "I wanted to get Raul in there, and I wanted to get Andino and Ryan in there. They both had decent numbers against CC. I talked to both [Ackley] and Smoaker. Don't read into it; it's just a matchup and wanting to get a few other guys in there and potentially have our best lineup in there today."
The decision to play the left-handed-hitting Ibanez against the southpaw Sabathia is interesting, but it paid off in the top of the sixth inning, when Ibanez added to Seattle's lead with a two-run homer off New York's starter. Ibanez entered Tuesday having hit .286 (12-for-42) with two home runs and 10 RBIs against the Yankees' ace in his career. Andino had hit .348 (8-for-23), and Ryan was at .400 (4-for-10).
"Raul has faced him more than anybody," Wedge said. "It's just a knowledge base. There's specific history there that they can pull from. Of course, that goes both ways, but you trust your people and just certain matchups work better -- that type of pitcher vs. that type of hitter or his stuff vs. that type of hitter. That's just the way it works, so you try to put your best lineup out there."
Wedge said he also took Ibanez's history of success at Yankee Stadium into account. The veteran hit .273 at the Stadium last year when he was playing for the Yankees, with 14 of his 19 home runs coming in his home park.
• On his way back from a strained right hamstring, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez will work out and run the bases for a second time on Wednesday in Seattle before a decision is made on whether he's ready to begin a Minor League rehab stint in Triple-A Tacoma.
• Reliever Josh Kinney, on the 60-day disabled list with a stress reaction in his ribs, will report to Tacoma this week to begin a rehab stint, Wedge said. Kinney isn't eligible to come off the DL until May 30. He's been throwing in extended spring camp in Peoria, Ariz.
• The Mariners opened the season by going 0-5-2 in their first seven series. Since then, they're 4-0-1.
• Catcher Mike Zunino -- the Mariners' No. 3 prospect, as ranked by MLB.com -- hit a two-run homer in Tacoma's 5-3 loss at New Orleans on Monday. It was his first long ball since April 20. Zunino is batting .229 with six homers and 31 RBIs in 28 games.