August 12th, 2015 was a great day to be a Mariner fan as Hisashi Iwakuma tossed a no-hitteragainst the Baltimore Orioles. The Japanese import struck out seven batters while walking three across 118 pitches and entered baseball lore, cementing the sixth no-hitter for the Seattle organization. But how did it happen? Did Iwakuma deserve his spot in the history books? Instead of a typical GIF Breakdown that shifts between each weapon in a pitcher’s repertoire, let’s walk through Hisashi Iwakuma’s no-hitter with 14 GIFs as he progressed through his great performance.
As always, let’s first look at his strikezone plot for the evening:
What should stand out here is the circle around the very center of the plate. Through the evening, Iwakuma was able to avoid the middle and keep his pitches down, which generated a 57.9% groundball rate as he used both his Sinker and Splitter to induce plenty of grounders that were eaten alive by the Mariner defense. Take another glance and notice the plethora of purple boxes below the strikezone. Iwakuma was unbelievably consistent keeping his Splitter low and it generated plenty of outs through the game. The number of Fastballs up in the zone were mostly intentional, as he frequently went with an elevated 90 MPH+ pitch to get batters to chase. He used his Slider to keep hitters uncomfrotable off the plate while keeping them honest by throwing it for a strike on command. Outside of a few hiccups here and there, this was Iwakuma at his best, and let’s watch him him in action through the start with a ton of GIFs:
To begin, let’s take a look at his first out of the game:
Even though his Slider induced contact off the end of the bat, it was a tough play for Brad Miller to make. It’s funny to note that this seemingly innocent above-average play was very important in the grand scope of the game. This Slider of the game showed that Iwakuma was off to a good start. But where would a good secondary pitch be without an excellent Fastball to back it up?
Here’s the pitch that was simply outstanding for Iwakuma. It may look innocuous, but gaining strikes like these constantly during at-bats sets Iwakuma up for weak contact and whiffs. This Sinker had an elite 9.00 inches of horizontal break near 89 MPH that he could depend on at any point and he had confidence pounding the zone through the game, evidenced by a solid 20/29 first pitch strike count and throwing nearly 2/3 of his pitches for strikes.
As with any no-hitter, you need a little luck. Though Iwakuma threw nearly 20% Sliders across the outing, he featured a good amount that shot through the heart of the plate. For example, he ended the first inning with this slide piece right down the middle to Chris Davis, and the slugger gave it a long ride.
Sure, it wasn’t the 2-1 pitch Davis expected and he could only give such a charge into the Slider after being planted on his front foot, but Iwakuma knows he got away with this one. It’s no surprise that he gradually weened off the pitch in favor of his Splitter the deeper he went into the game.
In the very next batter Iwakuma exhibited his slow Curveball (we’re talking 71 MPH slow) that on its own isn’t all that effective. However, when mixed in properly, it keeps hitters off balance and can provide an out or two, like this groundout to Jimmy Paredes:
It’s nothing special and clearly not a major part of his repertoire (he only threw four!) but it was another pitch that earned him a pair of outs and a first pitch strike during the afternoon.
The biggest challenge for Iwakuma came in the fourth inning. His perfect game came to end when he walked leadoff batter Manny Machado after getting ahead 1-2:
He also walked Chris Davis during the inning, and was struggling to command his Slider. He recovered by leaning on his Sinker to collect a pair of strikeouts and escape the inning with the no-hit bid intact. Just watch Adam Jones struggle against these two Sinkers:
After ending the inning by striking out Jimmy Paredes, Iwakuma found his groove. Through the next five frames, he allowed only one baserunner as Iwakuma’s shifted from Slider heavy to Splitters down in the strikezone and racked up the groundouts:
Iwakuma was also able to effectively locate his Four-Seam Fastball up in the strikezone when he wanted batters to chase. It was a great compliment to his diving Sinker and induced guys like Gerardo Parra to swing through the pitch for strike three:
I cannot emphasize enough how effective this pitch is when mixed properly inside Iwakuma’s repertoire. Everything his throws – Sinker, Splitter, Slider – has signifcant drop attached to it and was kept at the knees through the afternoon. Suddenly Iwakuma was able to not only change the batter’s eye level, but also alter the expected movement, surprising hitters and confusing them into a poor swing. It’s a tough pitch to command when everything else stays down in the strikezone, but Iwakuma constantly delivered with excellent results…except this Fastball to Adam Jones to lead off the 7th:
He wanted the ball down and away, and the ball got up a bit more of the plate than you’d want against a power hitter like Jones. Right from contact, you can see Iwakuma refuse to turn around, believing he lost the bid from one of his few mistakes on the afternoon. Luckily for him, it landed safely in Austin Jackson’s glove in center and Iwakuma’s chance at history was still alive.
After issuing a full-count walk to Jonathan Schoop to lead off the 8th, Iwakuma was about to throw his 100th pitch and needed a way to escape quickly if he wanted to last through the ninth. After striking out Ryan Flaherty, it should come to no surprise that he relied on his Sinker to induce an inning-ending double play:
With every no-hitter there is always that great play in the field as teammates are willing to run through walls to help their pitcher seal the deal. While Miller’s catch in the first was solid, this play by Kyle Seager to secure the first out of the ninth was spectacular – on a well-spotted comeback Sinker, no less:
After this incredible catch, the stadium knew it was inevitable for Iwakuma to pull off the no-hit bid. Sure enough, on one of his patented Sinkers, Gerardo Parra hit this lazy flyball to center for the final out:
It was a fantastic outing from a pitcher performing at the top of his game. Baltimore batters made little sense of his lively Sinker, while his Slider and Splitter were enough to keep hitters off balance and rarely make good contact as they rolled over pitch after pitch. He made few mistakes with his pitches, and when he did, they were often either well mixed or had enough movement to prevent excellent contact. Iwakuma’s stuff is meaty, and while he doesn’t have Kershaw’s ability to frequently reproduce these kinds of outings, Hisashi clearly has the ability to simply dominate on any given night.
The Mariners may be considered out of the playoff hunt for 2015, but it’s great to see them have a moment like this under their belt for the season. Congrats to Hisashi Iwakuma, and I hope he enjoyed his well deserved Gatorade bath: