Hultzen to make season debut in AA on Friday

Hultzen (2)Mariners left-hander Danny Hultzen, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball before running into shoulder problems two years ago, will make his first start in a regular-season game in 20 months on Friday when he takes the mound for Double-A Jackson against Pensacola in Jackson, Tenn.

Hultzen, 25, missed the entire 2014 season while working his way back from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum. He last pitched in a Minor League game on Sept. 1, 2013 for Triple-A Tacoma, throwing two innings before being shelved and eventually undergoing surgery a month later.

Hultzen threw well in Spring Training before being sent down to Minor League camp. The Mariners are taking a slow approach with his return and kept him in Arizona for a month of extended Spring Training before clearing the way for his season debut Friday.

Hultzen is no stranger to Jackson fans. He began his pro career with the Generals in 2012 when he teamed with Taijuan Walker and James Paxton on a club that went 42-28 and won the first-half North Division title in the Southern League when he was 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts.

Hultzen was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma at midseason that year and started out 2013 with the Rainiers again, posting a 4-0 mark with a 2.05 ERA before his shoulder problems cropped up. He was rated as the No. 18 prospect in baseball by MLB.com that year, but has since fallen out of those Top 100 rankings due to his injury issues.

MLB.com currently ranks Hultzen as the 25th best prospect in the Mariners organization, a position that could change quickly if he returns to full health. Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft and was considered a key component in Seattle’s pitching plans until his shoulder problems arose.

Hultzen will be officially added to Jackson’s roster on Friday prior to the 7:05 p.m. ET game, which will be carried live on MiLB.TV.

• The Mariners are catching a hot Houston club in their four-game series at Minute Maid Park as the Astros opened a four-game lead in the early American League West chase by going 8-1 on their last road trip, the lone loss coming at Seattle.

“They’re a pesky group,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said prior to Thursday’s series opener. “They’ve got a lot of young talent and they’re feeling real good about what they’re doing right now. And rightfully so. Their pitching has been great, their defense has been good. This should be an interesting series.”

• Mariners right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen is scheduled for a bullpen session on Friday at Minute Maid Park, his first time throwing off a mound since hyperextending his right elbow on April 11 in Oakland. Wilhelmsen is likely looking at another throwing session after that before going out on a Minor League rehab stint.

• The Mariners have designated Saturday, May 9, against the A’s as their first of four games with peanut-controlled seating sections at Safeco Field for fans with severe peanut allergies. View Box seats for the peanut-controlled games are $12 and the special seating can be purchased online at http://www.mariners.com/nopeanuts. The other three games are June 23 against the Royals, July 10 against the Angels and Aug. 11 vs. the Orioles.

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