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SEA@HOU: Iwakuma tosses six innings of one-run ball

Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is 29-15 with a 2.94 ERA in 75 appearances (61 starts) since making his Major League debut in 2012. No team has received the brunt of the right-hander's success like the Twins.

Iwakuma opens Seattle's four-game series against Minnesota on Monday at Safeco Field, and the 33-year-old has not only never lost to the Twins, he's never been scored on in four prior starts.

Iwakuma is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 26 2/3 innings against Minnesota. In that span, he's allowed 16 hits with eight walks and 24 strikeouts, beating the Twins twice last year and twice in 2012.

The 2013 American League All-Star is 6-4 with a 3.33 ERA this season. He didn't make his first start until May 3 because of a torn finger tendon, but he pitched extremely well upon his initial return. Iwakuma bounced back from two poor starts in late June with six innings of one-run ball in his last outing, a 13-2 victory at Houston, and he believes he's regained his form.

"I didn't walk anybody. I was commanding the fastball better than I did in the last two starts," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I was very aggressive attacking the strike zone and that helped me a lot."

Manager Lloyd McClendon believes Iwakuma, who'll make his 13th start of the year on Monday, needed time to build up after his delayed beginning to the season, and he will benefit from an extra day between starts as well with the Mariners having had an off-day Thursday.

"He went through a dead-arm period, just like every other pitcher does," McClendon said. "But the rest of the guys went through theirs in Spring Training. He didn't have a Spring Training. I would say he's probably coming out of it now. He's feeling better now and he's had six days, so I suspect he'll be better, particularly in the second half."

Iwakuma is glad to be back helping a club that headed into Sunday tied with the A's for the best record in the Majors since April 23 at 41-26. The Mariners lost to the White Sox, 1-0, to finish their road trip with a 4-2 record.

"The last two starts, I felt like I wasn't contributing and doing my part," Iwakuma said. "I'm very happy I was able to do my part again. It's not easy when the team is in a good groove and has good momentum and you aren't winning."

The Twins, who are 39-48, will counter with right-hander Kevin Correia (4-10, 4.95 ERA), a 33-year-old in the midst of his 12th big-league season. In his last start, Correia gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over six innings, but he didn't receive any run support in a 4-0 loss to the Royals.

Correia retired 13 of his final 16 batters, but he had to come out when his pitch count reached 108.

"Kevin gave us an opportunity," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His pitch count got high, but he hung in there. He got through six innings and gave us an opportunity to win."

Mariners: Felix to skip Twins series
McClendon decided to push Felix Hernandez's next start back a day to Friday, meaning the Seattle ace won't face Minnesota in the upcoming four-game series at Safeco Field.

"I just want to line up my best pitcher against Oakland [on Friday]," McClendon said. "I want him pitching against them, so it made sense to make that adjustment. And it also gives him an extra day so he can pitch on a sixth day. All the stars just lined up and it made sense to do that."

Thursday's starter against the Twins hasn't been announced, but the club could either make it an all-bullpen day or recall Erasmo Ramirez or another pitcher from Triple-A Tacoma for that start.

Twins: Morales off to slow start
The Mariners were willing to open their checkbooks to keep veteran designated hitter Kendrys Morales.

Morales hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs in 2013, his only year with Seattle. The club offered him a three-year, $30 million extension and a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. Morales turned each down.

Because the Mariners extended a qualifying offer, any other team that signed Morales before the MLB First-Year Draft in June would have had to give up a first-round compensatory pick.

The Mariners were reportedly in negotiations with the Cuban slugger up until the Draft, but the switch-hitting 31-year-old ended up signing with the Twins for a prorated $7.41 million deal a few days later, after the compensatory-pick deadline had passed.

In 26 games with the Twins, Morales is batting .216 with one home run, 11 RBIs and a disappointing .537 OPS. Monday will mark his first game at Safeco Field since he signed with Minnesota.

Worth noting
• Mariners rookie center fielder James Jones was given the day off Sunday after the team played 14 innings Saturday, but he will be back in the lineup for Monday's series opener against the Twins. Despite not being called up until May 5, Jones is tied for sixth in the AL with 17 stolen bases and has hit .279 in 59 games.

• The Twins took two of three games from the Mariners at Target Field when the clubs met from May 16-18.

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