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SEA@HOU: Iwakuma's 2014 debut a winner

Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will make his first home start on Thursday night against the Royals after an impressive beginning to his season on Saturday in Houston.

The American League All-Star was efficient in his 2014 debut, pitching 6 2/3 innings and allowing four runs on six hits and one walk. He threw just 81 pitches -- 56 for strikes - and struck out three in picking up the win as the Mariners held on to beat the Astros, 9-8. Seattle then followed by winning four of its next five, including three of four in Oakland, to finish its road trip 7-2 and improve to 17-16 on the season.

All signs were encouraging after Iwakuma missed Spring Training and the first 4 1/2 weeks of the season while recovering from a strained finger tendon in his throwing hand.

"Overall, I was able to pitch well. I was able to command both sides of the plate and that helped a lot with pretty much all my pitches," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I threw a few pitches up and kind of battled that, but besides that, I was able to pitch a good game."

Royals left-hander Danny Duffy, in the rotation in place of ailing Bruce Chen, will make the first appearance of his career at Safeco Field and his second start of the season.

After six bullpen outings, Duffy's first start came last Saturday against Detroit. He lasted four innings and gave up just two hits and one run, but he walked four while throwing 75 pitches (41 strikes).

His aim for this start?

"Pound the zone a little bit more because I was about 50-50 balls and strikes. I want to definitely attack earlier and be a little bit more efficient. I can do that," Duffy said.

Manager Ned Yost figures Duffy could go 90 or 95 pitches this time out, depending on his command.

"Some days he's good, some days he's more erratic," Yost said. "He's always got stuff that, for the most part, keeps him out of trouble."

What's that "stuff" consist of?

"He doesn't really throw a two-seam fastball, it's a four-seamer straight, 95 to 97 [mph]," Yost said. "He's got a decent changeup and last year he threw a curveball. He's throwing more of a slider now because he commands it a little better."

Royals: Valencia getting some time
Backup infielder Danny Valencia is getting more chances to play, sometimes starting against left-handed pitchers in place of third baseman Mike Moustakas.

"Everybody wants to play so it's definitely good to get in the lineup," Valencia said.

Valencia, a right-handed hitter, has a good history against lefties and Moustakas, a left-handed hitter, does not, and he's off to a slow start. So Valencia, after sitting during most of the season's first month, has been getting some starts and is trying to make a good impression.

"For anybody who is on the bench for a long period of time and you don't get in the game much, it's definitely tough," Valencia said. "This game's hard enough when you're playing every day. When you're not in there every day, in and out of the lineup and as much as you are on the bench, it's very difficult."

After starting four of six games at third base (he was 2-for-14 with a walk), Valencia was pressed into second-base duty on Wednesday at San Diego because Omar Infante had a stiff back. He responded by going 3-for-5 with a double, two singles and an RBI in the 8-0 win over the Padres.

"You want to have quality at-bats, hit the ball hard, get on base," Valencia said. "But you can't get too upset if you're hitting the ball hard and barreling it up. Especially when you're on the bench and don't play much."

Mariners: McClendon happy with pitching staff
Admitting that he's probably overused the bullpen in recent weeks, manager Lloyd McClendon said on Tuesday that he's been happy to see starters work further into games during the club's latest road trip.

Seattle entered Wednesday's doubleheader in Oakland with a bullpen that had pitched 100 2/3 innings, ranked 10th most in the AL, and a rotation that had thrown 175 innings, which ranked 13th.

"I think as a whole our bullpen has pitched extremely well," McClendon said earlier this week. "But it's nice to see our starters go six or seven innings -- that cleans up a lot of things for you."

Worth noting
• Billy Butler, out of the starting lineup for three days of Interleague Play at San Diego, will return to the designated hitter spot at Seattle. The Royals were the only big league club without a pinch hit this year until Butler doubled in an 11th-inning run in Tuesday night's 3-1 victory over the Padres.

• The Royals have a record of 96-106 in Seattle, including 23-37 at Safeco Field. Last year, they won the season series from the Mariners, 4-3, but were 1-2 in the Emerald City. Comments