NEW YORK — Look for All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to rejoin the Mariners’ rotation Saturday and make his season debut that afternoon against the Astros in Houston.
The official announcement likely won’t come before Saturday because activating Iwakuma from the disabled list requires a corresponding roster move, but club officials privately confirmed he will pitch that day.
For now, manager Lloyd McClendon merely identifies Iwakuma as “a possibility” to pitch Saturday. But he did acknowledge he had no concerns about returning Iwakuma to the rotation.
Iwakuma, 33, finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting last season after going 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 33 starts.
He’s been unavailable this season because of a strained ligament in his middle finger. The injury occurred in a late January workout but wasn’t identified until he arrived in early February for spring training.
It prevented Iwakuma from throwing until late in spring training, and he didn’t return to game action until last Sunday, when he threw 83 pitches in four innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma at Las Vegas.
Iwakuma said, earlier this week, he felt ready to return to the rotation.
“Yes, of course,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “If I wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t be pitching. … As of now, it’s not where I finished off last year. I think I’m around 70 percent overall.
“And it will get better. It’s been getting better every bullpen I’ve had.”
Tentative plans called for Iwakuma to pitch Friday, but McClendon pushed two starters, Roenis Elias and Felix Hernandez, back one day after rain postponed Wednesday’s game at Yankee Stadium.
A healthy, effective Iwakuma would provide an immediate boost for a patchwork rotation that is also struggling to overcome injuries to two other starters: promising rookies James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.
Further, Erasmo Ramirez pitched so poorly that he was optioned to the minors; and Blake Beavan, promoted after Paxton’s injury, lasted four innings before shoulder problems forced him to the disabled list.
Center fielder Abraham Almonte believes he’s identified the primary problem for his ongoing slump, which landed him (and his .248 on-base percentage) on the bench for the second time in three games.
It’s all in his head.
“I’m moving my head a little,” Almonte said. “I’m moving my head forward too quick, or my head is off to the side (at the wrong angle). We’re trying to figure out exactly what it is.
“Sometimes, it’s tough to see the ball the way I’m used to (seeing it). I think my swing is good, but I’m just not seeing the ball like I should.”
But he said he’s studying tape and trying to make the necessary adjustments.
“I’m trying to stay as calm as possible,” he said. “I’ve been through this before. It seems it takes forever, but one day I’m going to get out of this slump. Then things are going to go the way they’re supposed to go.”
Michael Saunders started Thursday in center field, but McClendon said Almonte will return to the lineup Friday in Houston.
“I’m just trying to put him in more favorable match-ups,” McClendon said. “He just needs positive results. He’s working his tail off to try to get it straightened out. It’s just not happening right now.”
PUSHING BACK FELIX
Hernandez’s career-long success at the new Yankee Stadium — 4-1 with a 1.18 ERA in six starts — wasn’t enough to persuade McClendon to pitch his ace in Thursday’s series finale.
Instead, McClendon opted to push Elias and Hernandez back one day after heavy rains Wednesday forced a postponement. Elias shifted from Wednesday to Thursday; Hernandez now starts Friday in Houston.
“It gives him an extra day,” McClendon said, “and it also gives Elias an extra day. It just made sense. Felix has been taxed quite a bit. He’s pitched on regular rest for quite a while.
“It’s an opportunity to get him to where we need him to be. His last two outings have not been sterling outings, I think we’d all agree. This gives us a chance to freshen him up and get him back on the right track.”
Hernandez gave up nine runs (five earned) and 12 hits over 13 innings his past two starts after yielding seven runs (six earned) and 18 hits over 28ª innings in his first four starts.
OTHER PITCHING PLANS
The Mariners’ tentative pitching plans are now in place for the rest of the road trip after adjusting for a rainout, Iwakuma’s return and a day/night doubleheader Wednesday in Oakland.
Those plans include a one-day recall for right-hander Erasmo Ramirez from Tacoma. He opened the season in the big-league rotation but was demoted to the minors after going 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts.
Right-hander Brandon Maurer will start Sunday’s series finale in Houston after Hernandez and Iwakuma pitch the first two games.
Chris Young and Elias will start Monday and Tuesday in Oakland before Hernandez returns in Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader. It’s not yet certain whether Hernandez will pitch the opener or the nightcap.
Ramirez is slotted for a one-day recall to start the other game under the 26th-player rule for doubleheaders.
It was 12 years ago Friday – May 2, 2002 – that Mike Cameron powered his way into baseball history and led the Mariners to a 15-4 victory at Chicago.
Cameron became the 13th player in MLB history to hit four homers in a game, and he did it in four consecutive at-bats.
The first two homers came in the first inning when he joined Bret Boone in becoming the first players to hit back-to-back homers twice in the same inning. The Mariners led 10-0 before the White Sox came to bat.
The Mariners have a 7-0 record after open dates (including opening day and rainouts). … Robinson Cano has a hit in nine straight games after going 1-for-4 with an RBI double on Thursday. … Corey Hart went hitless in four at-bats, ending a 12-game streak of reaching base at least once. … Cano is the only Mariner to start all 26 games. Smoak has played in all 26, but he entered one game as a defensive replacement.
The Mariners open a three-game weekend series at 5:10 p.m. Friday in Houston. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-1, 2.40 ERA) will oppose Astros righty Brad Peacock (0-2, 5.95 ERA). The game will broadcast on Root Sports.