MIAMI — Easter Sunday brought some much-needed good news for the Seattle 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 before Sunday’s game at Marlins Park, the final test for the strained ligament in his middle finger before beginning a rehab assignment Tuesday with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers.
Plans call for Iwakuma to throw 45-50 pitches in his first outing and then push to 70 pitches by this weekend. Barring a setback, he should return to the Mariners during a 10-game trip that starts April 29 in New York against the Yankees.
Walker was scratched from a planned rehab start last week in Tacoma because of shoulder soreness, which plagued him during spring training.
But club officials say he has responded well over the past few days.
Walker is tentatively scheduled to be examined Wednesday by Dr. Ed 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 April 9 in a 10-strikeout performance at Double-A Jackson.
Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said the club’s other two ailing starters, James Paxton and Blake Beavan, also could 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 some light throwing. He won his two starts before suffering the injury April 8 in a 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles 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 after his recall from Tacoma to replace Paxton in the rotation. That’s the same injury Walker has.
“A lot of times, it’s the bursa in your shoulder,” Griffin said. “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 GETS TIME IN RIGHT
Corey Hart pleaded — and won — his case to play Sunday in right field.
“Sometimes,” he said, “that works.”
Before the series, McClendon said Hart wouldn’t play in the outfield for the three games at spacious Marlins Park because of concerns regarding his 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 2-for-4, marking his fourth consecutive multihit game. But look for him back at designated hitter this week when the Mariners return home for six games.
“If you look at our club,” McClendon said, “(Hart) is more adapted to DH-ing 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 RAINIERS
As expected, the Mariners cleared roster space for right-hander Brandon Maurer before 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 Beavan was placed on the disabled list.
McClendon said Jones just needs to play.
“He was in Double-A (Jackson) 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.”
It was two years ago Monday — April 21, 2012 — that Philip Humber of the Chicago 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 footnote?
It was 18 years ago Monday — April 21, 1996 — that Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez hit back-to-back homers on two separate occasions in a 9-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at the Kingdome.
Starting pitcher Randy Johnson’s record improved to 4-0.
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 at the plate after going 4-for-25 in Seattle’s six previous road games. ... Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley each had an RBI on a sacrifice fly and are tied with a team-high 10 RBIs on the season. ... Miami closer Steve Cishek has converted 32 consecutive save opportunities.
The Mariners open their six-game homestand Monday with the first of three games against Houston at Safeco Field. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-0, 1.91 ERA) will start against Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel (1-1, 3.50) at 7:10 p.m. Root Sports will broadcast the game.bob.dutton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners