Mariners notebook: Iwakuma slowly getting groove back

Staff writerApril 18, 2014 

Mariners Rangers Baseball

Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, right, and Seattle Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, both of Japan, smile as they chat during batting practice before their baseball game Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

LM OTERO — AP

All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma experienced no problems Friday in a simulated game and, barring something unexpected, should begin his minor league rehab assignment Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma.

“I was going 100 percent, just like a game, and I had no pain,” said Iwakuma, who was diagnosed in early February with a strained ligament in his middle finger.

“I was pain-free with my finger. Everything looks good so far. I think I’m at around 70 percent right now. I still need to command my pitches and get that feel back.”

Iwakuma threw 35 pitches, including his trademark split-finger fastball, in an early workout at Marlins Park before the Mariners opened a three-game weekend series against Miami.

It marked Iwakuma’s first workout against hitters. In a simulated game, a pitcher is limited to a specified number of pitches between a break of several minutes to mirror game conditions. Hitters are permitted to swing.

“I was a little nervous,” Iwakuma admitted. “I was trying to find my balance, but I was able to throw strikes. So that was good. I think I’m at around 70 percent right now.

“I still need to command my pitches and get that feel back.”

The Mariners liked what they saw.

“He’ll throw a bullpen (workout) Sunday,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “If all goes well, you’ll possibly see him out on a rehab (assignment) Tuesday of next week.”

If so, Iwakuma would pitch for the Tacoma Rainiers against Sacramento at Cheney Stadium.

Iwakuma and club officials remain cautious in targeting a date for his return to the Mariners’ rotation, but McClendon continues to set a 90-pitch endurance threshold as the minimum standard.

“We just want to see him continue to progress and stay healthy,” McClendon said. “We’ll figure out that (return date) as we move forward. It’s nice to have an All-Star getting healthy.”

Iwakuma, 33, was 14-6 in 2013 with a 2.66 earned-run average. He was picked to the American League All-Star team and finished third in Cy Young Award voting.

MAURER GETS NOD SUNDAY

As expected, right-hander Brandon Maurer will be recalled from Tacoma to start Sunday’s series finale against the Marlins.

“I don’t think it’s just that he’s the last arm (available),” McClendon said. “He was in consideration in spring training to make this club. I think he deserves this opportunity.”

The Mariners won’t officially recall Maurer until Sunday morning because they must make a corresponding move to clear roster space. McClendon previously indicated that move likely would involve a position player.

An ailing back limited Maurer to just 4† innings in spring training before he was optioned to the Rainiers to start the season. He was 5-8 last season for the Mariners with a 6.30 ERA in 22 games, including 14 starts.

Maurer, 23, made three relief appearances at Tacoma before throwing 54 pitches Monday in just two innings as a starter. He has allowed two earned runs and five hits overall in 8ª innings while registering 17 strikeouts.

“I think he’s on a pitch count,” McClendon said. “I don’t want to say what it is because I don’t want the opposition knowing what that is. But he’s like anybody else; we’ve got to watch what he does out there.”

LOMO A NO-GO

First baseman/designated hitter Logan Morrison admits his strained right hamstring, which forced him onto the disabled list earlier this week, muted much of the excitement attached to returning this weekend to Miami.

“Pretty much all of it,” he said. “Oh, yeah. It would have been a lot of fun to see those guys and compete against them.”

Morrison, 26, spent the past eight years in the Marlins’ organization before coming to the Mariners in a Dec. 11 trade for reliever Carter Capps, who currently is pitching in the minors.

The hamstring injury surfaced Monday while Morrison stretched before a game at Texas.

“Just out of the blue,” he said. “It (stinks) … but it is what it is. People tell me that everything happens for a reason.”

Does he feel that way?

“Not right now,” he said.

HART MOVES TO FIRST

With no designated hitter in Miami, Corey Hart made his second consecutive start in the field — this time at first base. He played all nine innings in right Thursday in an 8-6 loss at Texas.

“Obviously, we keep his bat in the lineup,” McClendon said. “I didn’t want to put him back in the outfield back-to-back days.”

Hart missed all of 2013 while recovering from major surgery on both knees. His 10 starts before Thursday all came as a DH.

“We also get a chance to give our first baseman (Justin Smoak) a day off,” McClendon said. “He hasn’t missed a game. We want to make sure he stays strong, as well. It’s a combination of both things.”

LOOKING BACK

It was 26 years ago Saturday — April 19, 1988 — that left-hander Mark Langston set a franchise record by allowing five home runs in a 7-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox at the Kingdome.

That record has been matched by two other left-handers: Jamie Moyer on July 21, 2006, vs. Boston at Safeco Field; and Jason Vargas on June 20, 2012, at Arizona.

SHORT HOPS

After making his debut Friday night, outfielder James Jones is the first player in franchise history to wear No. 99. ... The Mariners played Friday for the first time at Marlins Park. There are two current stadiums where Seattle has never played: Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Citi Field in New York. They’ll knock CBP off the list in August. ... The distance between Seattle and Miami is the largest between any two franchises. The Mariners’ flight home Sunday will be 2,770 miles. ... The Mariners and Marlins have played three previous series (2005 in Miami; 2008 and 2011 at Safeco Field). The Mariners entered the weekend with a 5-4 edge. ... Mariners pitchers were a combined 0-for-19 this past season at the plate in interleague games.

ON TAP

The Mariners continue their weekend stay in Miami at 4:10 p.m. Saturday at Marlins Park.

Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias (1-1, 2.16 ERA) goes against Miami right-hander Henderson Alvarez (0-2, 4.30). Elias grew up about 500 miles away in Guantanamo, Cuba.

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