March 2014

Saturday’s Game 26 recap: Rockies 4, Mariners 3

Elias, Roenis

Player of the Game: Left-hander Roenis Elias is turning into quite a spring story for the Mariners as he continued making his case to land a rotation berth with another solid outing. The 25-year-old Cuban allowed four hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings with two walks and four strikeouts. He threw 82 pitches, then went to the bullpen and tossed 10 more to get his final pitch count up to 92. His only mistake was a two-run homer by Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario on a fastball that drifted over the middle of the plate in the fourth.

Stat of the Game: Robinson Cano went 0-4, which serves as news this spring. Cano’s average dropped to .500 with just his second hitless game in Cactus League play. He did move a runner over to third to set up an RBI groundout by Kyle Seager in the third and then flew out to the opposite field twice before being replaced in the seventh inning.

Storyline: While Elias was impressing manager Lloyd McClendon in Scottsdale, fellow starting contender Scott Baker had a rugged outing against the A’s in another split-squad game in Phoenix. Baker was roughed up for six runs on seven hits with six walks in four-plus innings and gave up two homers. Meanwhile, Elias likely earned himself another start next week, according to McClendon, and certainly seems to be doing everything possible to keep his name alive in the battle for the final two starting spots behind Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton.

Worth noting: Shortstop Brad Miller continued his scorching spring with a 2-for-4 day that included two double. Miller now has four doubles, four triples and four home runs this spring and leads the Cactus League in slugging percentage at an impressive 1.000. Young reliever Dominic Leone also had another good showing, striking out the last four batters he faced in a scoreless 1 2/3 inning outing.

Quote of the Day: “He threw the ball extremely well. I was very pleased. He just keeps going out there and keeps doing good. He certainly has made a statement for himself.” – McClendon on Elias.

Next: Veteran southpaw Randy Wolf continues his bid for a rotation berth with his fifth start of the spring on Sunday when the Mariners host the A’s in a 1:05 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium. The 37-year-old non-roster invitee has thrown well coming back from a year off following Tommy John surgery and has a 4.15 ERA after throwing four scoreless innings with two hits against the Padres in his last outing. Closer Fernando Rodney and Yoervis Medina are also scheduled to pitch in the game, which will be carried live on Gameday Audio on MLB.com and 710 ESPN Seattle.

Here’s today’s boxscore from the Rockies’ game.

Here’s today’s boxscore from the A’s game.

Here’s my story on Elias’ outing and his improving chances of landing a rotation spot.

And here’s my notebook with all the day’s news from camp.

Decision time looming for Mariners in last week

McClendonToday is the last split-squad day of spring for the Mariners, who will use road games against the A’s and Rockies to play pretty much all their position players and get another look at roster contenders Scott Baker and Roenis Elias.

There will only be five Cactus League games remaining after this busy Saturday, which also sees Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor throwing an inning each in a Minor League game against the Padres Triple-A team as they make their first live appearances of the spring. That game will be at 1 p.m. PT on the Padres main practice field at the Peoria Complex.

Manager Lloyd McClendon said there are still a few decisions left to be made when it comes to the final 25-man roster. He’s not one to divulge much there yet, but the final rotation spots beyond Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton seem still up in the air between Elias, Baker, Randy Wolf and Blake Beavan.

The final couple spots in the bullpen also are still to be determined, with veteran non-roster invitees Joe Beimel and Zach Miner competing with young guns Dominic Leone and Carson Smith and returnees Lucas Luetge and Hector Noesi. The seeming locks in the pen would be closer Fernando Rodney and set-up men Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina, which leaves two openings.

Smith threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings in Friday night’s loss to the Padres and now has been unscored upon in 7 1/3 frames with four hits, two walks and 10 strikeouts. Those are hard-to-ignore numbers and you can add the 6-foot-6 right-hander’s name to the mix.

“He’s still here,” McClendon said. “Power arm … there’s a lot to like. He’s got nasty stuff. He’s starting to use his changeup a little more, I think he’s gaining confidence with every outing. Both of those young men, Smith and Leone, have thrown extremely well. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ll see.”

The Mariners have to officially name a starting shortstop, though Brad Miller has done everything imaginable on the field with a huge spring at the plate. McClendon continues playing Abraham Almonte in center field and the leadoff role and clearly wants to make that work with the speed and power tools Almonte brings to the table. Michael Saunders could play center as well, but he’s seeing most of the time in right field and will continue to do so unless Corey Hart can play there more than he has this spring.

“I think there is still a little decision making left to be made,” McClendon said Saturday morning. “It really has everything to do with the makeup of the club, the depth of the club as we move forward. When are we getting guys back that are injured? Those things come into play. There’ll be a lot of talking and discussing. And the performance of the players the last week will dictate some things as well. It’s unfortunate we don’t have that stamped lineup that we know is set, but it is what it is.”

Here are the lineups being rolled out today, with most of the starters lined up against the Rockies. That game will be replayed on ROOT Sports at 5 p.m. PT, with the Rockies broadcast crew calling the game. The A’s game will be carried live on 710 ESPN Seattle radio with Aaron Goldsmith and Mike Blowers calling the action, as Rick Rizzs has a rare day off.

AT ROCKIES (1:10 p.m.)
Abraham Almonte CF
Brad Miller SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Kyle Seager 3B
Mike Zunino DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Dustin Ackley LF
Cole Gillespie RF
Humberto Quintero C

Roenis Elias LHP

AT A’S (1:05 p.m.)
Endy Chavez CF
Nick Franklin SS
Stefen Romero LF
Logan Morrison 1B
Michael Saunders RF
D.J. Peterson 3B
Austin Wilson DH
Willie Bloomquist 2B
John Buck C

Scott Baker RHP

Friday’s Game 25 recap: Padres 7, Mariners 2

Miller, Brad (2)

Player of the Game: Shortstop Brad Miller continued his torrid recent stretch with a 2-for-3 night with a double and run and an RBI as he raised his Cactus League batting average to .463 (19-for-41). Ten of those hits have gone for extra bases, with two doubles, four triples and four homers. In his last three games, Miller has hit 8-for-11 with two doubles, two triples and a home run. Yeah, that’s pretty good.

Stat of the Game: Robinson Cano went 1-for-2 and lowered his spring batting average to .563. Cano only played three innings as the Mariners starters were pulled early with split-squad day games on the slate Saturday. But Cano did his damage with an RBI double in the first, extending his hitting streak to nine games.

Storyline: James Paxton hasn’t officially been named to the rotation yet, but it’s pretty apparent the young left-hander is being lined up to pitch in the first series of the regular season in Anaheim. He didn’t have his best outing of the spring, giving up four hits and three runs in four innings with two walks and four strikeouts. McClendon pulled him after 70 pitches and sent him to the bullpen to throw another 20 with pitching coach Rick Waits, who had him correcting some things in an attempt to keep all his pitches down.

Worth noting: With instant replay in effect, McClendon went out to challenge a call at first base with two out in the bottom of the eighth when he questioned whether San Diego’s Kyle Blanks had pulled his foot on a high throw that nipped Austin Wilson. The umpires upheld the call in just over a minute.

Quote of the Day: “Everything is not going to go perfect every time out. Sometimes you have to pick your team up a little bit and for the most part I thought he did a pretty good job.” – McClendon on Paxton’s outing.

Next: The Mariners have their final split-squad day of the spring with a pair of afternoon road games on Saturday. Veteran right-hander Scott Baker gets the start against the A’s in Phoenix in a 1:05 p.m. game that will be broadcast live on 710 ESPN Seattle and MLB.com’s Gameday. Young left-hander Roenis Elias makes his second start of the spring against the Rockies in a 1:10 p.m. contest at Salt River Field in Scottsdale. Both pitchers are non-roster invitees competing for one of the final rotation berths. Additionally, Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor will both make their spring debuts in a Minor League game against the Padres at 1 p.m. at the Peoria Sports Complex as they return from injuries.

Here’s today’s boxscore.

Here’s my feature story today on hard-throwing Dominic Leone’s bid to land a bullpen role.

And here’s today’s notebook with all the day’s news from camp.

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.”

Thursday’s Game 24 recap: Mariners 3, Cubs 0

ErasmoRamirezPlayer of the Game: Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez got out of a first-and-third jam in the first inning and proceeded to throw six scoreless frames as he continued a strong spring. Ramirez lowered his Cactus League ERA to 0.96 while allowing just four hits with no walks and four strikeouts. He was efficient enough with a 63-pitch outing that he went and threw another 20-25 pitches in the bullpen afterward.

Stat of the Game: There doesn’t appear to be any stopping Robinson Cano this spring as the second baseman went 2-for-3 with a walk to raise his Cactus League average up to .567. Cano extended his hitting streak to eight games with his pair of singles. Dating back to 2006 with the Yankees, Cano has hit .349 (179-for-513) in 175 Spring Training games.

Storyline: Manager Lloyd McClendon said afterward that he’s still not ready to make any pronouncements on who has clinched rotation berths beyond Felix Hernandez, but clearly Ramirez has done everything necessary to win a job and indeed appears on schedule at the moment to pitch the second game of the regular season.

Worth noting: Dustin Ackley went 3-for-4 with a double, raising his spring average to a healthy .457 (21-for-46). The left fielder appears to have more than carried over last year’s strong finish when he led the Mariners with a .304 average after the All-Star break.

Quote of the Day: “My arm feels healthy and that’s why I love it. Just to feel healthy again, not sore like last year. I’m just trying to be positive in my mind and not be crazy. Just stay where I am and not try to do more. Just stay in my routine and throw strikes.”  – Ramirez after his six shutout innings.

Next: Young left-hander James Paxton makes his fifth Cactus League start on Friday in a 7:05 p.m. game against the Padres at Peoria Stadium. Paxton appears to have locked up a rotation berth with a strong spring as he’s put up a 2.08 ERA with three earned runs and 13 hits in 13 innings with just one walk and eight strikeouts. Relievers Zach Miner, Carson Smith and Danny Farquhar are also scheduled to throw one inning apiece in the game, which will be carried live on MLB.TV and ROOT Sports.

Here’s today’s boxscore.

Here’s a story by MLB.com columnist Barry Bloom on Randy Wolf’s comeback bid with the Mariners.

And here’s my notebook with all the day’s news from camp.

Felix throwing Minor League game today

Felix Hernandez pitches today at noon in a Minor League game against the Brewers’ Class-A team on Field 6 in the Mariners Peoria Complex, getting his second-to-last spring action in without having to travel to Mesa with the rest of the club for Thursday’s Cactus League game.

Most of the Mariners are facing right-hander Jeff Samardzija in the 1:05 p.m. PT game at the Cubs brand-new park.

Manager Lloyd McClendon gave Hernandez his choice and the veteran chose to pitch in the Minor League game, skipping the hour travel. He’ll make his final spring start against the Royals on Tuesday before making his seventh Opening Day start on March 31 in Anaheim.

That lets Erasmo Ramirez get the start today against the Cubs. Manager Lloyd McClendon wanted to watch both games, but the noon start doesn’t allow travel time to get to both, so he’ll rely on reports on Felix’s outing.

“It’s going to be hard for me to pull that off. I don’t think they’ll send a helicopter for me,” McClendon said with a smile.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Abraham Almonte CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Justin Smoak 1B
Corey Hart DH
Logan Morrison RF
Dustin Ackley LF
Nick Franklin SS
John Buck C

Erasmo Ramirez RHP

Wednesday’s Game 23 recap: Brewers 9, Mariners 7

Miller, BradPlayer of the Game: Brad Miller continued his impressive spring with his second straight 3-for-4 game, this one including a pair of triples, as he made another strong statement for the starting shortstop job. Miller, who also walked in the ninth, now is batting .447 (17-for-38) with a double, four triples, four home runs, 13 runs scored and eight RBIs in 13 games. In his past two games, Miller is 6-for-8 with a double, two triples and a home run.

Stat of the Game: Mariners starter Blake Beavan gave up four of the Brewers five home runs on the day, all coming in the first four innings as he struggled with his fastball location and pitched up in the zone too much. The good news is Beavan threw 93 pitches and worked two outs into the sixth, the longest start this spring by a Seattle pitcher. The bad news is he gave up eight hits and seven runs.

Storyline: Beavan is fighting for a rotation spot and seemed on the verge of locking up a spot with a strong spring. It’s hard to know how much this outing will affect those chances, but he surely didn’t slam the door any on a competition that also includes veterans Randy Wolf, Scott Baker and young Roenis Elias battling for the final two berths behind Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton on the opening roster.

Worth noting: Kyle Seager had been struggling since returning from a finger injury, but the third baseman unleashed his first homer of the spring – a solo shot in the seventh – in a 2-for-4 day that lifted his spring average to .205. McClendon dropped Seager down to the No. 5 hole after hitting him second most of the spring.

Quote of the Day: “The ball flies when you get it up. We didn’t pitch down in the zone. Those things will hurt you. You have to execute pitches, regardless of the conditions. …  He got the ball up in the zone and it just wasn’t good.”  – McClendon on Beavan’s rough outing on a warm afternoon when the two teams combined for seven home runs.

Next: Felix Hernandez will throw in a Minor League game at the Peoria Complex on Thursday, leaving Erasmo Ramirez to take the Cactus League start against the Cubs in Mesa in a 1:05 p.m. PT game. Hernandez made the choice to pitch at home rather than taking the trip to Mesa and will have one more Cactus League start next week against the Royals. Ramirez appears locked into Seattle’s rotation and is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in four spring outings.

Here’s today’s boxscore.

Here’s my story today on Stefen Romero’s bid to land the final outfield spot on the roster.

Here’s today’s notebook with all the news from camp.

Here’s a story from MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy on Corey Hart’s thoughts on leaving the Brewers and starting anew in Seattle.

And here’s MLB.com columnist Tracy Ringolsby’s take on the Mariners pitching situation in the wake of injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker.

Cano returns, says he stayed sharp working with dad

Cano RobbieRobinson Cano is back in the Mariners lineup today, having returned from four days in the Dominican Republic while dealing with a family situation.

Cano said he stayed sharp by working out and hitting batting practice every day with his father, Jose Cano, who was a pitcher in the Yankees, Braves and Astros organizations and had a brief Major League stint with the Astros in 1989.

“Everything is fine,” Cano said Wednesday morning after arriving back at the Mariners complex in Peoria. “I took care of things and now I’m ready to get back. We’ve still got two weeks, so there’s plenty of time to get everything right.”

Cano also missed four games earlier in camp after having root canal surgery and returned with three hits his first game back and went 8-for-11 over his next four games before having to leave for the Dominican. He said he stayed sharp during his first layoff by hitting black beans with a broomstick in order to keep his eyes sharp.

Did he do the same while in the Dominican?

“Yep, I’ve been doing that since I was a kid,” Cano said. “And sometimes we use bottle caps. They really move and you have to watch them all the way. And if you hit ‘em, they go a long ways.”

Cano is back in the lineup in his normal No. 3 spot for Wednesday’s 1:05 p.m. PT game against the Brewers in Peoria, touting a .609 batting average (14-for-23) from his first nine Cactus League games. That torrid pace surely won’t continue for long, but manager Lloyd McClendon isn’t worried about working the team’s newest star back into the swing of things.

“Robbie is a professional,” McClendon said. “He knows how to go about his business. We were in contact and he worked out every day in the Dominican with his dad. It’s not like he’s just been off and he’s rusty. He’s proven he can come back after five days and get three hits and a couple doubles, so that’s pretty impressive.”

Cano was one of the first players in the clubhouse Wednesday morning, saying he always likes to come in early to lift weights, work on his legs, do some running and hit in the cages.

“These last two weeks [of spring] are important,” he said. “It’s time to start really getting ready.”

McClendon has Cano hitting third, but has moved a few other players around in Wednesday’s lineup, with shortstop Brad Miller hitting second and Kyle Seager dropped to the No. 5 spot and Dustin Ackley hitting eighth. Corey Hart isn’t playing after starting in right field the night before, but most of the regulars are in the lineup as the team starts gearing toward Opening Day on March 31.

“I’m just tinkering, trying to figure out what’s the best lineup for us moving forward,” McClendon said. “You may see [Nick] Franklin leading off tomorrow. I don’t know. I’m just doing a few things to see what fits best.”

Here’s the full lineup for today’s game, which is available live on Gameday Audio on Mariners.com or tape delayed at 8 p.m. PT on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Abraham Almonte CF
Brad Miller SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Justin Smoak 1B
Kyle Seager 3B
Logan Morrison DH
Michael Saunders RF
Dustin Ackley LF
Mike Zunino C

Blake Beavan RHP

Tuesday’s Game 22 recap: Mariners 5, Padres 5

Miller, Brad (2)Player of the Game: Brad Miller strengthened his bid for the starting shortstop job – and he wasn’t even playing shortstop. Miller, moved to second base to fill in for the still-absent Robinson Cano, went 3-for-4 with a home run, double and single as he hiked his spring average to .412. The 24-year-old scored three runs and had an RBI while increasing his team-lead in homers to four in Cactus League play.

Stat of the Game: Starting pitcher Randy Wolf threw four scoreless innings, which certainly didn’t hurt his efforts of landing a roster spot this spring as well. The 37-year-old veteran gave up just two hits while throwing 73 pitches.

Storyline: Wolf pitched well, while Fernando Rodney did not. Rodney gave up the lead with a pair of runs on two hits, a walk and a passed ball in the sixth, though manager Lloyd McClendon said he was unconcerned with the new closer’s rough spring since he’s not pitching in normal save situations and is just working to get ready for the regular season.

Worth noting: Miller and Dustin Ackley continued producing this spring, with Ackley dropping a bunt single in a 1-for-2 day that lifted his spring average to .436. But not all the Mariners hitters are enjoying such early success. Kyle Seager went 0-for-4 and is hitting .175, Abraham Almonte was 0-for-3 and is batting .167 and Corey Hart is still hitting just .139 after a 1-for-3 day with an infield single to third. What does it all mean? Not a ton, given Spring Training numbers don’t always add up to much, but certainly the Mariners would like to see those key players start warming up in the final two weeks of Cactus League play.

Quote of the Day: “The fact is, most closers stink in Spring Training. They pitch in the fifth, sixth innings. It’s tough. They’re a different animal and it’s hard to get their adrenaline going. We just need to keep getting him out there and getting his work in.” – McClendon on Rodney’s struggles so far this spring.

Next: Second baseman Robinson Cano is expected back in the Mariners lineup for Wednesday’s 1:05 p.m. PT game in Peoria against the Brewers after missing the past four games. The season’s biggest offseason free-agent prize flew home to the Dominican Republic on Friday to deal with a personal issue and is scheduled to rejoin the club on Wednesday morning. Cano has hit .609 (14-of-23) in nine Cactus League games this spring. Right-hander Blake Beavan (2-0, 2.13 ERA in four games) gets the start, with Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen scheduled for relief appearances. The game will be available for free on Gameday Audio on Mariners.com and tape delayed at 7 p.m. on ESPN 710 Seattle.

Here’s today’s boxscore.

Here’s my story on Hisashi Iwakuma as he finally got the splint off his injured finger today.

And here’s my notebook with all the rest of the news of the day from camp.

Iwakuma cleared to begin throwing soon

Iwakuma, Hisashi

All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma finally received some good health news on Monday as doctors cleared him to remove the splint from his sprained middle right finger for the first time since camp opened five weeks ago.

Iwakuma, 32, hasn’t been able to grip or throw a baseball since catching his hand in a netting behind the mound when he was leaping to catch a high chopper during a workout in Los Angeles just before Spring Training began in early February.

The Mariners have no firm timetable in place for the return of the man who finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting last year, but are happy to finally get his throwing program in motion.

“To be honest, it’s been a very, very long five weeks, I can tell you that,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “But the doctor said I could take that splint off and do more with that finger, the actual rehab, so that’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to that. I’ve done everything I could for the last five weeks.”

Iwakuma will do range-of-motion exercises to begin working on the finger’s strength and flexibility for the next few days, then begin throwing a tennis ball on Friday. He’ll advance to throwing a regular baseball on Monday, which will kick off the gradual process of building back up his arm strength.

Both Iwakuma and manager Lloyd McClendon stayed away from any best-case speculation on when he might be ready for games. He clearly won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, which is now less than two weeks away. So he’ll almost surely open the year on the 15-day disabled list and shoot for a return in late April, if all goes well.

 “It’s hard to say, being in my situation right now,” Iwakuma said. “All I feel is wanting to come back soon, but I don’t want to push it and get any more setbacks. It’s a long season, I look forward to finishing strong. That’s all I have in mind right now.”

McClendon said he has no actual target date in mind. The manager is also juggling delayed starts for youngsters Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer. Walker will throw his third bullpen since coming off a week-long layoff with shoulder soreness on Friday and has been strong since his return, but also needs to progress to live hitters and building up his arm again.

Maurer has missed considerable time with a sore back and just started playing catch again Monday.

“I just need to focus on who I’ve got here and what I’ve got available and what I’m dealing with,” McClendon said of a possible target date for Iwakuma. “You get caught up in that and you get disappointed. So I don’t even think about it.”

Iwakuma was equally vague.

“Tough question,” he said. “I can’t give you an exact date. I want to come back as soon as possible and be pain free and be able to go 100 percent by the time I’m out there on the mound.

“One or two starts will get my feel back for my pitches, but I’ll need to build my arm up to get to a certain amount of pitches. That will gradually tell as we go forward.”

Iwakuma can draw some on his experience from 2012, his first season in the Majors. He arrived in camp with a shoulder that wasn’t fully strengthened yet from an injury in his final season in Japan. The Mariners brought him along slowly, pitching him in long relief the first half of the season before moving him into the rotation on July 2.

He wound up going 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 16 starts that year, then carried that success over to 2013 when he was 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA and a club-record 1.006 WHIP.

“At that time, I didn’t have that in mind,” Iwakuma said of his slow start in 2012. “But I do realize it’s a very long season after two years under my belt, so that kind of gives me a rough idea of how I need to prepare myself to be able to finish strong this year.”

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