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Mashahiro Tanaka, Hisashi Iwakuma in battle of Japan ex-teammates

Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners pauses

Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners pauses after giving up an RBI double to Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers in the fourth inning at Safeco Field on April 11, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Fred Thornhill

When they were teammates with Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles, Masahiro Tanaka and Mariners righthander Hisashi Iwakuma never talked about playing baseball in the United States, Tanaka said. Today they will face each other in the major leagues.

“I read somewhere it’s the first time a former teammate was pitching against each other in the States,’’ Tanaka said yesterday through a translator. “So I was a little surprised of knowing that, but yeah, I’m really looking forward to the challenge of facing a former teammate.’’

Tanaka said the two have spoken about the start, but would not reveal the conversation. “He was the ace of the staff when I joined the Eagles,’’ Tanaka, 27, said of the 35-year-old Iwakuma, who came to the Mariners in 2012.

Iwakuma is 0-1 this season and 47-26 with a 3.18 ERA in his major-league career. Tanaka has no record in two starts and is 25-12 with a 3.17 ERA since joining the Yankees in 2014.

Tanaka received a seven-year, $155-million contract from the Yankees; Iwakuma arrived with little fanfare, making $1.5 million in his first deal. He was headed to the Dodgers after last season for a reported $45 million over three years, but Los Angeles pulled out after reported issues with his physical. The Mariners signed him to a one-year deal for $10 million.

Tanaka spoke of Iwakuma as if he had been a mentor and said he looked up to him. “I learned a lot from him and he taught a lot to me as well,’’ he said. “Just, you know, strategies and facing batters. Stuff like that.’’

Tanaka expects a large number of Japanese fans to watch the game back home, saying, “I think they’re looking forward to this matchup . . . I think it’s going to be projected as a big thing.’’

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