April 28, 2014

With Japan's baseball-loving community anticipating a matchup that's two years in the making, alarm clocks certainly could be blaring much earlier than usual.

In a culture that prides itself on hard work, Masahiro Tanaka vs. Hisashi Iwakuma might even call for a rare personal day.

It'll be 2:05 a.m. Monday in Japan when Tanaka throws his first pitch for the slumping New York Yankees on Sunday in the Bronx. Shortly after, his friend Iwakuma will take the mound for the streaking Seattle Mariners in the first major league pitching matchup featuring former Japanese teammates.

"I think it's big news back there," Iwakuma told MLB's official website. "We played with each other on the same team for a long time. A lot of fans back in Japan and the whole nation have rooted for us, and now it's myself vs. Tanaka. It's a different story. I'm sure all the fans will enjoy it. I hope to contribute enough to where I can make the fans very happy."

The 35-year-old Iwakuma and Tanaka, 27, pitched for Rakuten from 2007-11 before Iwakuma left to join Seattle (5-6). Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million with the Yankees (4-6) in 2014. They were on track to oppose each other that year, but the Yankees changed up their rotation, putting the matchup on hold.

"He was the ace of the staff when I joined the Rakuten Eagles," Tanaka said. "I learned a lot from him, and he taught a lot to me, as well."

Those pointers didn't pay off Tuesday when Tanaka (0-0, 3.38 ERA) issued a career high-tying four walks and tossed 92 pitches in just five innings of the Yankees' 3-2 win over Toronto.

The right-hander hasn't had many problems against the Mariners, though, striking out 27 while walking three in 23 innings and winning each of his three starts against them with a 2.35 ERA. The Yankees could use another solid effort from Tanaka after going 0 for 24 with runners in scoring position through the first two of this series.

New York has dropped four in a row following Friday's 7-1 loss and Saturday's 3-2 defeat. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts after sitting out the series opener and dropped to 3 for 30 with 11 Ks on the season.

"No player in here should feel like they should try to put the team on their shoulders," said Rodriguez, who is hitless in his last 19 at-bats and was booed by the home crowd.

Carlos Beltran went 4 for 5 with two doubles and a homer and is 8 for 17 during a four-game hitting streak. Starlin Castro had three hits to snap out of a 1-for-13 slump.

Iwakuma (0-1, 4.09 ERA) hasn't been shy about allowing base runners, surrendering 14 hits and four walks through 11 innings over two starts against Texas on April 5 and Monday's 7-3 loss. The Mariners' offense might have enough to make up for it if the right-hander struggles again, though.

Seattle has scored 14 runs on 30 hits during a three-game winning streak after losing five in a row while scoring seven times. Nelson Cruz, who is 0 for 12 with six strikeouts against Tanaka, doubled twice, and Leonys Martin homered Saturday.

Former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano has driven in a run in three straight for the Mariners, who have won eight of the last 10 meetings at Yankee stadium.

New York catcher Brian McCann could be back in the starting lineup despite a bruised left toe. He pinch hit in the eighth Saturday and stayed in the game after playing in the series opener.

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