The initial assessment Friday from left-hander James Paxton brimmed with optimism after he threw from a mound for the first time since a strained back muscle forced his exit from the April 8 game against the Angels.
“Felt awesome,” he said. “It was nice to get back up on the mound, that’s for sure. It has been a little while, so it was exciting to get back up there and throw some pitches.”
It was just 25 pitches, all fastballs and change-ups, but it represented a major step in Paxton’s effort to return to the Mariners’ rotation.
“It didn’t look like he’d missed any time at all,” pitching coach Rick Waits said. “We kept his intensity lower, obviously. He wasn’t near game intensity, of course, but he threw a lot of strikes.
“You see the smile on his face when he finishes, and you don’t even have to ask him how he feels. He’ll throw again on Sunday.”
That will likely be 35-40 pitches and Paxton again, probably, will be limited to fastballs and change-ups. A third bullpen session, targeted at mid-week, should include the added stress of throwing breaking pitches.
Barring setbacks, Paxton should then shift to simulated games, most likely a two-inning game, followed by a four-inning game. After that, he should be ready to begin a minor-league rehab assignment.
“His path will probably be similar to (Hisashi) Iwakuma’s,” manager Lloyd McClendon, “to do as much building as you need to do to get him back out there. I imagine the same thing for Walker.”
Right-hander Taijuan Walker, who has battled shoulder soreness, is scheduled to throw from a mound Sunday for the first time since mid-April.
“He looks great,” Waits said. “He’s got a nice, loose arm (in recent throwing sessions on flat ground). He’s excited about getting on the mound, too.”
Iwakuma opened the season on the disabled list because of a strained ligament in his middle finger. His first bullpen workout was April 9, and he returned to the rotation in a May 3 start at Houston.
A similar plan projects, roughly, a June 1 return for Paxton, with Walker returning a few days later — if all goes well. On Friday, at least, it couldn’t have gone better.
“Playing catch and throwing long toss,” Paxton said, “I haven’t felt anything. I wasn’t even thinking about it when I got up on the mound. I was thinking about my pitches and getting them to the bottom of the strike zone.”
FLU DERAILS SEAGER
The flu continues to work its way through the Mariners’ clubhouse. The latest victim is third baseman Kyle Seager, who was scratched after the club completed batting practice.
“We’ll see how he is in the morning,” McClendon said. “We’re hopeful (he can play Saturday).”
Willie Bloomquist replaced Seager at third base.
Right-hander Chris Young, who starts Saturday, paused when asked whether his five starts are sufficient to believe he’s approaching the form he exhibited before a series of shoulder injuries threatened to end his career.
“Health-wise, yes,” said Young, who is 2-0 with a 3.03 ERA. “Stuff-wise, I’m not there. I don’t know if I’ll ever be there. I’ve had three shoulder operations.”
Young, 34, was an All-Star in 2007 at San Diego before his shoulder became a persistent problem. He averaged a mere 12 starts a season from 2008-12 and missed nearly all of last season.
His last surgery, Young acknowledged, was likely to be his last attempt — and it offered a new approach in addressing the problem by repairing a nerve that put pressure on his shoulder.
So far, so good.
“The shoulder feels healthy,” Young said, “and I feel when I’ve been healthy in my career, I’ve pitched pretty well.”
Recall the Mariners only turned to Young after left-hander Randy Wolf refused to sign a 45-day, advance-consent clause after being told he had made the major-league roster in spring training.
That decision led to Wolf’s release, and he subsequently signed a minor-league system with Arizona.
Wolf was 4-1 with a 4.18 ERA prior to his start Friday for Triple-A Reno against Tacoma. He has an opt-out clause this weekend that permits him to become a free agent if not promoted to the big leagues.
The Mariners, after releasing Wolf, signed Young on March 27 — and Young did agree to the 45-day clause. That clause expires May 13, at which time the balance of Young’s $1.25 million contract will be guaranteed.
Royals lefty Jason Vargas, who pitched for the Mariners from 2009-12, is 9-6 with a 2.30 ERA in his last 20 starts at Safeco Field. … Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen worked a scoreless ninth and has not allowed a run in his last 10 innings over seven appearances. … Some Hisashi Iwakuma numbers after his eight innings Thursday in a 1-0 victory over the Royals: 51 career starts, 24-10 with a 2.65 ERA and 33 quality starts. … Fernando Rodney entered Friday tied with Baltimore’s Tommy Hunter for the American League lead in saves with 10. … The Royals recalled second baseman Johnny Giavotella prior to the game after optioning reliever Michael Mariot to Triple-A Omaha. … Kevin Cremin worked his 5,000th Mariners’ game Friday as the executive producer/engineer on radio broadcasts. … Looking ahead: Tuesday’s matchup for the middle game of the series against Tampa Bay is Iwakuma vs. David Price.
It was 26 years ago Saturday — May 10, 1988 — that Mark Langston set what was then a Mariners record by recording 16 strikeouts in a 4-2 victory at Toronto.
Randy Johnson now owns that record with 19 on two occasions, both in 1997: June 24 against the A’s, and Aug. 8 against the White Sox, both at the Kingdome.
Exactly one year after Langston’s 16-strikeout game — May 10, 1989 — he carried a perfect game into the ninth inning. That was also at Toronto, but it didn’t turn out well.
Tim Lawless opened the inning with a single, and the Blue Jays went on to score three runs and hand Langston a 3-2 loss.
The Mariners and Royals continue their four-game series at 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field Right-hander Chris Young (2-0 with a 3.03 ERA) will face Royals rookie righty Yordano Ventura (2-1 and 2.00).
It’s Kyle Seager Bat Night. All kids aged 14 and under get a free full-sized Seager model Louisville Slugger bat.
Root Sports will carry the game.