MIAMI — Easter Sunday brought some much-needed good news for the Mariners’ beleaguered rotation: Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker could be ready to reclaim their roles by the time the club heads back on the road.
Note the qualifier: “Could.”
Iwakuma threw a bullpen workout prior to Sunday’s game at Marlins Park as the final test for the strained ligament in his middle finger prior to beginning a rehab assignment Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma.
Plans call for Iwakuma to throw 45-50 pitches in his first outing, and then push to 70 pitches by next weekend. Barring a setback, he should return to the Mariners during a 10-game trip that starts April 29 in New York.
Walker was scratched from a planned rehab start last Tuesday at Tacoma because of shoulder soreness, which previously plagued him in spring training.
But club officials say he responded well over the last few days.
Walker is tentatively scheduled to be examined Wednesday by Dr. Edward Khalfayan, the club’s medical director, and could be playing catch by the end of the week.
That could position Walker for a swift comeback because he built endurance during two previous rehab starts. He threw 91 pitches on April 9 in a 10-strikeout performance at Double-A Jackson.
Trainer Rick Griffin said the club’s other two ailing starters, James Paxton and Blake Beavan, could also be playing catch by the end of the week. Paxton is battling a strained back muscle, while Beavan has a sore shoulder.
“Paxton has started to do a lot of exercises in the swimming pool,” Griffin said. “He’s doing exercises specifically for his (latissimus dorsi) strain. We’re working all of the muscles along his shoulder joint.”
If all goes well with an examination, tentatively set for mid-week, Paxton should be able to begin light throwing. He won his two starts before suffering the injury April 8 in a 5-3 victory over the Angels.
“He’s not having any discomfort,” Griffin said. “He’s feeling better. He's doing a lot of leg work, a lot of running, a lot of core work. We’re doing everything we can to keep everything else strong.”
Beavan was diagnosed last week with a “shoulder impingement” after lasting just four innings Tuesday following his recall from Tacoma to replace Paxton in the rotation. That’s the same injury as Walker has.
“A lot of times, it’s the bursa in your shoulder,” Griffin explained. “It becomes inflamed. When that becomes inflamed, there isn’t enough room for your shoulder to move around normally. So it pinches.
“When you throw the baseball, especially when you follow through, you get a pinching sensation in their shoulder. So you have to get the inflammation quieted down.”
HART IN RIGHT
Corey Hart pleaded — and won — his case to play Sunday in right field.
“Sometimes,” he said, “that works.”
McClendon said, prior to the series, that Hart wouldn’t play in the outfield for the three games at spacious Marlins Park due to concerns regarding his ongoing recovery from surgery on both knees.
While swayed from that view, McClendon still cited a need for caution.
“I also know he’s healthy because of the way we’re approaching it,” he said. “I want to keep it that way. Sometimes, you get too giddy about it, you look up and he’s back on the shelf.
“We’re going to make sure we do everything we can to keep him healthy.”
Hart responded by going two for four, which marked his fourth straight multi-hit game. But look for him back at DH this week when the Mariners return home for six games.
“If you look at our club,” McClendon said, “(Hart) is more adapted to DHing than anyone else. He’s more prepared to do it. I think, physically, right now playing the outfield or first base every day would take its toll.”
JONES TO TACOMA
As expected, the Mariners cleared roster space for right-hander Brandon Maurer prior to Sunday’s game by optioning outfielder James Jones back to Triple-A Tacoma.
Jones made his big-league debut Friday as a defensive replacement in right field and had an infield single in his only at-bat.
“I like him,” McClendon said. “I said this before, I don’t think he’s going to knock on the door. I think he’s going to tear the door down when he’s ready. He’s a very talented kid, and he’s got a lot of tools to work with.”
The Mariners recalled Jones on Wednesday after placing pitcher Blake Beavan on the disabled list because of shoulder tendinitis.
McClendon said Jones just needs to play.
“He was in Double-A last year,” McClendon said. “If he can compete this year at Triple-A, get his reps in, I think he’s going to be just fine.”
Sunday marked the first time a day game at Marlins Park, which opened in 2012, was played with the roof open. … Robinson Cano went 2-for-4 after going 4-for-25 in the six previous games on the road trip. … Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley each had an RBI on a sacrifice fly and remain tied, at 10, for the club lead in RBIs. … Miami closer Steve Cishek has converted 32 straight save opportunities.
It was two years ago Monday — April 21, 2012 — that Philip Humber of the White Sox threw the 21st perfect game in major-league history in a 4-0 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
Want a positive historical footnote?
It was 18 years ago Monday — April 21, 1996 — that Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez hit back-to-back homers on two occasions in a 9-5 victory over Toronto at the Kingdome. Randy Johnson improved to 4-0.
The Mariners open a six-game homestand Monday with the first of three games against Houston at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-0 with a 1.91 ERA) will start against Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel (1-1 and 3.50) at 7:10 p.m. Root Sports will carry the game.
It’s a Lone Star week. After Houston departs, the Mariners get a day off Thursday before playing a three-game weekend series against Texas.