Progress on pitching front for injured hurlers

Iwakuma w-splintInjured All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma threw a tennis ball Friday in his first step back from a six-week layoff with a sprained finger tendon, while young right-handers Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor are scheduled to make their spring debuts in Minor League games on Saturday.

The three injured hurlers could all be critical factors for the Mariners this season, so their progress is being closely monitored. All three will presumably open the regular season on the 15-day disabled  list, given there are only 10 days now until Seattle faces the Angels in Anaheim on March 31.

Iwakuma, 32, will need to slowly build back up his arm strength over the coming weeks. He began the throwing program with a tennis ball inside the Mariners training room, just to work on strengthening his grip after not being able to hold a baseball the past six weeks.

“I’m happy he’s back out and starting to be active again,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “But it’s going to take a little while. It’s not going to happen overnight. We just need to get him moving forward.”

Walker, a 21-year-old projected to land a starting rotation job coming into this spring as one of baseball’s premier prospects, hasn’t pitched in a game since arriving in camp with a sore throwing shoulder and later being shut down for a week after being diagnosed with bursitis.

But he’s thrown three bullpen sessions in recent days and now will begin testing his arm in game situations, with a scheduled 20-30 pitches on Saturday in an outing against the Padres’ Triple-A club at their Peoria complex.

“Ideally we’d like to see him go two innings and see how it goes,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It’s a Minor League game, so we can control it and go from there.”

Pryor, 24, hasn’t thrown in a game since a Minor League rehab outing last July, when the hard-throwing reliever discovered he was having further issues with a torn latissimus dorsi muscle behind his right shoulder that initially sidelined him two weeks into the Mariners’ season.

Pryor is scheduled to throw up to 20 pitches in a one-inning outing in one of the Minor League games in Peoria as well.

“I’ll get in there and see how it goes,” Pryor said. “It’s a big step for me. I’m excited about it.”

Pryor has thrown five bullpens and three live batting practice sessions this spring, clearing every hurdle while increasing his strength and velocity. He was expected to be a key member of last year’s bullpen and had thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the first two weeks of the year when he initially tore the lat muscle.

If he can return at full strength in the early going this season, that would be a significant boost to Seattle’s relief crew. And the big right-hander feels that is certainly possible.

“I’m not coming up sore or hurt, so this is the next step in the progression,” he said. “I set high goals for myself so I was hoping to be ready to go April 1. That’s not the case. I don’t know where they have me, but if I could be back in mid-April, before May sometime, that would be great in my opinion. But we’ll have to wait and see how the progression goes.”

Pryor said the game situation will be a good test.

“I’ve been trying to get after it and see how it feels and how I come back the next day,” he said. “Pitching in a game situation, adrenaline is going to be there and you’re going to try a little harder. So I’m anxious to see how that goes.”

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