SEA@TOR: Iwakuma goes seven strong to earn win No. 3

TORONTO -- As second baseman Dustin Ackley said following the Mariners' 8-1 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Saturday, Seattle has two of the best starting pitchers in baseball right now in ace Felix Hernandez and fellow right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.

The two have thrown 12 quality starts in 14 outings and each sports an ERA under 1.65. Hernandez is the Major League-leader in innings pitched with 50 2/3, while Iwakuma's minuscule 0.76 WHIP is tops in the American League. Entering Sunday, the pair are only two of eight starters in the game with 1.8 wins above replacement (WAR), according to baseball-reference.com, and both are among the top 10 in strikeout-to-walk-ratio. They are near the front of the class in many other significant pitching categories, too.

Manager Eric Wedge is familiar with having a lockdown 1-2 punch atop his rotations, having had CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee together in Cleveland. He says the biggest thing it does for a club is set the tone for every other player on the roster. The performances of Hernandez and Iwakuma speak for themselves, and Wedge said that rubs off on the rest of their teammates.

"It takes some time to get to that point -- and it took us a little bit of time in Cleveland, and it has here, too," said Wedge. "But when you have people at the top of your rotation that you can count on, it's going to keep coming around.

"What I mean by that is, from a position player's standpoint or the other pitchers or the bullpen, you know that every three or four days that those guys are going to be out there -- and that's going to go a long way."

One of the biggest benefits the team has enjoyed with the hot starts of Hernandez and Iwakuma, Wedge said, is the luxury of saving the bullpen by their ability to go deep into games.

Hernandez has completed eight innings in three of his last four starts and gone six in all seven of his outings, while Iwakuma has failed to log six frames just once this season.

Wedge has had a first-hand look at Hernandez's dominance the last few seasons and said talent alone is not the only reason why the 27-year-old is one of the game's best.

Although Hernandez expects success each time he takes to the mound, Wedge said, he doesn't take anything for granted.

"He knows he has to go out there and make it happen. He has worked hard and pitched for a long time to get to this point," Wedge said. "I love the fact that he doesn't assume anything, he knows he has to go out there and do the work in between his starts.

"That's one of the many reasons why he is who he is."

Wedge, a former catcher, said being behind the plate for pitchers that are as consistent as the pair is a pleasure. He knows backstops Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach are having a lot of fun with it.

"When you have someone out there that can execute pitches with good stuff, that's when it gets to be a lot of fun," Wedge said. "[Hernandez] is the best of the best. To be able to go out and execute and pitch and give your team a chance to win ballgames, that says a lot about those guys."

Wedge hopes Maurer benefits from extra rest

BAL@SEA: Wedge discusses Maurer's rough start

TORONTO -- With off-days on Monday and Thursday, Seattle's rotation has the benefit of getting a little extra rest.

One pitcher in particular that manager Eric Wedge is hoping will benefit from a long layoff is rookie Brandon Maurer. The 22-year-old hasn't pitched since a rough outing against the Orioles on April 30, and won't go again until May 10 vs. Oakland.

"We're trying to manage his innings -- and when we have opportunities to do that, we are going to do that," Wedge said. "Just pushing him back."

Wedge said the team always intended to monitor Maurer's workload this year, as the most innings the right-hander has logged professionally in one season is 137 2/3 -- and that came in the Minor Leagues in 2012. Major League innings, the skipper said, are a lot more stressful than anything Maurer has ever experienced before.

Maurer allowed six earned runs in each of his first two outings this year, before settling in and putting a string of three consecutive quality starts together. He followed that up by going just four innings in a loss against the Orioles to fall to 2-4 on the year with a 6.07 ERA.

"We have had to handle this with a lot of young players over the years," Wedge said. "It's not something you start thinking about in August and September, it's something you think about before [you break] camp with the guy, and we did.

"There are certain opportunities we have in our schedule that we can manage him appropriately, and that's what we are doing here."

Aaron Harang, coming off his best start of the season, and ace Felix Hernandez will get the ball for Seattle's mini two-game set in Pittsburgh, starting on Tuesday. Hisashi Iwakuma will follow Maurer and go against the A's on Saturday.