Taijuan Walker and James Paxton each took positive steps Sunday as they attempt to return from injury.
Both Seattle starting pitchers threw bullpen sessions before the Mariners’ series finale against the Kansas City Royals — 25 pitches for Walker, 40 for Paxton — and both said they felt fine afterward.
Paxton, a left-hander, threw a 25-pitch bullpen session Friday, his first work off a mound since he strained a back muscle during his start against the Los Angeles Angels on April 8 and landed on the disabled list. He said Sunday’s work was done at about 80-85 percent and involved fastballs, change-ups and a few curveballs.
“Everything was feeling good today,” Paxton said. “(My) curveball I was throwing for a strike today, which is nice. I think the next step is getting up and down, and getting that time off in between and getting hot and cold.”
Meanwhile, Walker threw from a mound for the first time since he was scratched from a rehabilitation start at Triple-A Tacoma on April 15. The 21-year-old right-hander has been on the 15-day DL since March 21 because of a shoulder injury, but he said Sunday’s session was a step in the right direction.
He mostly threw fastballs, with six change-ups mixed in.
“The arm felt good. My arm felt normal,” Walker said. “Everything I’ve kind of been working on, (I) just put it on the mound and kind of sync it all together.”
Both pitchers said they plan to throw again Wednesday. Paxton expects to throw 55 pitches, with Walker upping his total to 35.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t seem all that interested in discussing the rehabilitation process of either player.
“I’m concerned about the guys I have, not about the guys I don’t have. So until they’re part of this 25-man roster, I’m not concerning myself with them,” McClendon said. “I guess to answer your question, I don’t follow these guys’ sidelines from day to day or how they throw 60 feet. It really doesn’t concern me. When they can get out on that mound and throw 60 feet, 6 inches, then I’m concerned about them.”
Sunday was good news, bad news for the Mariners on the health front. But even the bad news isn’t all that bad.
The good: Third baseman Kyle Seager returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games — including Saturday, when the Mariners celebrated Kyle Seager Bat Night — because of the flu.
The bad: Right fielder Michael Saunders, who left Saturday’s game with what the Mariners termed a hyperextended left knee, was not in Sunday’s lineup.
But tests revealed no ligament damage and a magnetic resonance imaging exam wouldn’t be necessary. Saunders said he felt good enough Sunday morning that he could pinch-hit late in the game if the Mariners needed him. Turned out they did, though Saunders struck out swinging to end the eighth inning in his only at-bat.
McClendon said Saunders remains day-to-day after he fell down while chasing a ball in the outfield during the third inning Saturday and didn’t come back out for the fourth.
Replays showed an awkward tweak of his lower leg, but Saunders doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the injury.
“It’s a lot better than I expected. Just hyperextended it,” Saunders said inside the clubhouse, his knee wrapped in a soft material. “Felt like I could make the play, and then realized I wasn’t going to be able to get there (at the) last second. Tried to pull up, got loose ground, cleats came up from underneath me. Just hyperextended my knee. It’s a little sore, a little swollen, but nothing that’s going to hinder me from any significant time.”
Saunders joked that the worst part of the play was that Mike Moustakas turned what should have been a single into a triple, then scored on a sacrifice fly, the lone blemish against Mariners starter Chris Young in a 3-1 victory.
“I apologized to Chris afterward. I felt worse about him getting on third and a sac fly than anything,” Saunders said. “He picked me up and pitched a great game, and I’m looking forward to getting out there as soon as possible.
“It’s nothing serious.”
MCCLENDON ON MILLER
McClendon offered a supportive response to a question about shortstop Brad Miller, whose .165 batting average has many fans wondering how long he’ll be able to stay on the roster without putting together better at-bats.
“He’s getting better. He’s starting to take some walks. He’s taking pitches. He’s going deeper into counts,” McClendon said. “I expect him to break out of this any day. I really like what I see. I like his approach. I know he’s frustrated, but he’s a strong-minded kid. He’s going to be OK.”
Miller snapped an 0-for-19 slump with a two-run double in the third Sunday.
The Mariners continue a seven-game homestand at 7:10 p.m. Monday with the opener of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-1, 2.73 ERA) is set to start against Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos (1-1, 2.96). Root Sports will air the email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @ChristianCaple