Iwakuma works out despite Rainiers rainout

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comApril 23, 2014 

With the weather threatening less than ideal conditions Tuesday at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, the Seattle Mariners shifted gears and kept rehabbing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma at Safeco Field for another simulated game.

Everything suggests it went well.

“The feel for the game is coming back gradually,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I felt a lot better than that (simulated) game (last Friday) in Miami.

“The ball jumped out of my hand pretty well today. I feel pretty close now to the regular season.”

Iwakuma threw 58 pitches over four simulated innings. Plans now call for him to throw 75 pitches Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma at Las Vegas (Mets). If that goes well, Iwakuma could then rejoin the big-league rotation.

“We’ll see,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon cautioned. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Iwakuma, an All-Star in 2013, is recovering from a strained ligament in his middle finger, which was diagnosed in early February. Reports from others suggest he’s close to top form.

“(The ball’s) moving all over the place,” said utilityman Willie Bloomquist, who served as one of the hitters against Iwakuma. Added catcher John Buck: “Awesome. Nasty.”

The shift in plans provided a benefit. The Mariners were better able to control conditions in the

simulated game, which permitted Iwakuma to work beyond the 45 pitches planned for his outing in Tacoma.

“We could actually get the pitch count up a little more than we anticipated,” McClendon said. “As you could see, we had him cover some bases, throw to some bases. We had a guy bunt on him. All in all, I thought it went very well.

“I thought he had better finish to the fastball, better finish to the breaking ball. I thought he was sharper.”

A Sunday start for Tacoma could position Iwakuma, on normal rest, to pitch May 2 when the Mariners open a three-game series at Houston.

If all goes well.

“I think you have to be patient,” McClendon said, “because we’re talking about a guy who is not a one-year wonder. I plan on this guy being around a long time because I plan on being around a long time.

“I want to make sure I take care of him.”

PATIENT PEP TALK

McClendon offered an extended “take” in his pregame session with reporters on why it’s too early to be overly concerned by his club’s disappointing play, which included a seven-game skid entering Tuesday.

“You leave spring training with a club,” he said. “You feel good about that club. You’re 20 games into the season, and you’re not playing as well as you should be playing. You don’t drastically change your feelings about how you feel about those players.

“You continue to encourage them. You continue to make them better. You continue to prod them and, hopefully, in the very near future, they’ll get going the way you think they can. That’s our plan here.

“I don’t plan to make any drastic changes. I don’t feel any different about my players now than I felt coming out of spring training. I like my club. I think we’re talented. Are we short in some areas? Yes. But I like my club, and I like the pitching.

“We’re banged up a little bit. We’ve been dealt a tough hand, but we’ll deal with that. We’ll bluff our way through it, and we’ll be just fine.”

McClendon added he believes it takes “50 games to know what type of club you have. I haven’t gotten off of that. Guys are in a funk right now. And listen, when you lose seven in a row, guys press a little bit. That’s just the nature of the business.

“But at some point, you’ve got to come out of it, and they will. Maybe it’s a broken-bat single. Maybe it’s a home run. I don’t know, but I’ll know when it happens. You will, too.”

MORRISON UPDATE

Logan Morrison is likely to require some at-bats on a minor league rehab assignment, McClendon said, before returning from the disabled list.

Morrison suffered a strained right hamstring while stretching just prior to the April 14 game at Texas. He was batting .150 (3-for-20) in eight games before the injury.

MINOR DETAILS

High-A High Desert third baseman D.J. Peterson left Monday’s 14-9 victory over Rancho Cucamonga because of hamstring tightness. His status is day-to-day.

Peterson, 22, was the Mariners’ top pick in the 2013 draft and is generally regarded as the club’s top non-pitching prospect. He is batting .290 with one homer and 11 RBIs in 17 games for the Mavericks.

Also, High Desert infielder Patrick Kivlehan was picked as the California League player of the week for April 14-20 after batting .385 (10-for-26) in six games with five homers and nine RBIs.

Kivlehan, 24, was the Mariners’ fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft. He entered Tuesday night’s game batting .307 overall in 18 games with seven homers and 18 RBIs.

SHORT HOPS

Eight is enough already: The Mariners have been outscored 18-0 in the eighth inning. … The Mariners’ eight-game skid coincides with a lack of clutch hitting. Seattle is 7-for-49 (.143) in those games with runners in scoring position. ... Felix Hernandez, despite losing Monday, became the first pitcher in club history to open the season with five starts of six or more innings while allowing two or fewer runs in each outing.

ON TAP

The Mariners conclude their three-game series against Houston at 12:40 p.m. at Safeco Field. Right-hander Chris Young (0-0, 3.27 ERA) will face Astros right-hander Jarred Cosart (1-2, 7.36). Root Sports will broadcast the game.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

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