Left-hander Danny Hultzen will now continue his recovery from major shoulder surgery in minor league camp after being optioned by the Seattle Mariners Sunday to Triple-A Tacoma in a series of roster moves.
“I’m very pleased with where he is right now,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Obviously, he’s worked very hard. I think he’s very excited about where he is, and we want to make sure he continues to stay healthy.”
The Mariners moved 11 players to minor league camp prior to Sunday’s workouts. Hultzen, left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham and outfielder Julio Morban were optioned to Tacoma.
Eight players not on the 40-man roster were reassigned to minor league camp, including catcher Marcus Littlewood, who had been in big-league camp on an extended loan.
The other seven were right-handed pitchers Sam Gaviglio, Stephen Landazuri and Forrest Snow; outfielder Jordy Lara; and catchers Steven Baron, Mike Dowd and Tyler Marlette.
Hultzen, 25, was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft and was on a fast track through the Mariners’ minor league system before undergoing surgery on Oct. 1, 2013 to repair his labrum and rotator cuff.
When he pitched one scoreless inning March 11 against Colorado, it marked Hultzen’s first game action since Sept. 1, 2013, when he worked two innings for Tacoma against Sacramento at Cheney Stadium.
“To be able to come back and pitch again is incredible,” he said after facing the Rockies. “There were times when I doubted that I could ever come back again. I’m through that now.”
While the Mariners optioned Hultzen to Tacoma, he won’t necessarily open the season by pitching for the Rainiers.
“I know part of that plan,” McClendon said, “is to make sure, at the early part of this, whatever we decide, it’s going to be in warm weather.”
That suggests Hultzen could begin the season at Double-A Jackson or remain in Arizona for extended spring training — although Tacoma opens its season at El Paso and Albuquerque.
“It’s something we have to be right on with,” McClendon said, “making sure that this young man is healthy throughout the year.
“I will say, if anything, we’re going to err on the side of caution with him. Particularly with the number of innings and the number of pitches per inning with him.”
McClendon and other club officials have consistently maintained this year’s goal for Hultzen is to have him ready to make a push next season for the big-league roster.
“He wasn’t going to make this club this year,” McClendon said, “so the best thing to do was to get him out. Let him go get ready for the season. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The moves left 51 players in the big-league camp.
Lara, 23, was the organization’s co-minor league player of the year in 2014 after batting .337 with 26 homers and 104 RBIs in 135 games at Advanced-A High Desert and Jackson.
“He’s a very talented young man with the bat,” McClendon said. “My guess is he’ll either be a first baseman or a corner guy. But he can hit. His bat plays. He’s going to be a fine major league player.”
HERNANDEZ TUNES UP
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, shifted to a simulated game Sunday against minor league players, completely overmatched his competition while throwing 51 pitches (38 for strikes) over 31/3 innings.
His only problems came from the three defensive errors behind him.
“It was good,” Hernandez said. “Did my work. Feel pretty good. Threw a lot of strikes, working on my stuff, and it was fine.”
Plans call for Hernandez to get an extra day of rest before his next start Saturday against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Arizona. He will then get one more spring start before facing the Los Angeles Angels in the season opener on April 6.
Injured shortstop Chris Taylor is fighting a familiar frustration after learning he will be sidelined four-to-six weeks because of a broken bone in his right wrist suffered Friday on a foul ball against Milwaukee.
“I had a similar feeling last year (after breaking his left) pinkie,” Taylor said. “That’s what happens. It’s baseball. I’ve just got to keep my head up and bounce back.”
Taylor initially didn’t think he’d suffered anything more than a bruise. He remained in the game and drove a single back through the box before exiting for a pinch-runner.
That optimism faded Friday night as he tried to sleep.
“It was throbbing,” he said. “The whole night, it kept getting worse and worse. I probably got about one hour of sleep. It was swelling up a lot. And for it to swell up that much, I knew it might be an issue.”
Taylor’s injury effectively ended his battle with Brad Miller for duty as the Mariners’ starting shortstop. Taylor was 8 for 19 at the plate in eight games, while Miller is 7 for 17 in seven games.
“I’m going to get back as quickly as I can,” Taylor said, “but I’ve got to make sure I’m 100 percent. That’s the most important thing. There’s really no reason to rush it at this point.
“Hands are never fun. You really do have to be careful, especially with the swing. That has a lot of wrist involved in it. I’m going to listen to the trainer and, basically, just do what they tell me to do.”