It might seem a small thing that Mariners left-hander Drew Smyly finally threw a handful of pitches Thursday from the lower part of a bullpen mound.
He won’t argue.
Smyly didn’t throw from the rubber. Just a slight downhill slope to test his recovery from a strained flexor bundle in his elbow, which forced him to the disabled list in late March.
"It’s just the next step," he said. "I got halfway up the mound, so I wouldn’t call it a bullpen (workout). But it was working downhill. We’re scheduled for our first bullpen on Saturday."
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That will be a big deal.
"Once you get on a mound and get a bullpen under you," manager Scott Servais said, "you can get a little more defined in what the program is going to be. Start mapping out bullpens and live BPs and rehabs and all of that other stuff."
A normal progression (barring setbacks) would be a two-to-three bullpen workouts, a session or two of throwing to hitters (live batting practice) and a simulated game (throw 15-20 pitches, sit, and throw another 15-20).
Then at least two or three starts while on a minor-league rehab assignment. That timetable, in a best-case scenario, requires about a month and puts Smyly in line to return just before or (more likely) just after the All-Star break.
"It’s just one day after the next," he said. "Just keep moving forward."
The Mariners acquired Smyly, who turns 28 next week, from Tampa Bay in a Jan. 11 trade for outfielder Mallex Smith, infielder Carlos Vargas and left-hander Ryan Yarbrough.
Smyly was 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA last season in 30 starts for the Rays and is 31-27 and 3.74 over five seasons. He is making $6.85 million and will eligible this winter for arbitration and gain free-agent eligibility after the 2018 season.
***Designated hitter Nelson Cruz missed a second straight game because of a troublesome right calf muscle, which forced his removal from Tuesday’s 12-3 victory over the Twins in the series opener.
"I think I could play today," he said, "but they say one more day. It happened (May 30) in Colorado and, for a few days, I didn’t feel it at all. I got itchy (on Tuesday) and went out and did all of the agility drills and stretching.
"It tightened up."
Cruz underwent a precautionary magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam prior to Wednesday’s game.
"After the doctor’s report," Servais said, "I think giving him a couple of days off is the smart thing to do. Believe me, I would love to have him in the lineup. But we’re playing for the long haul here. Another day will be good for him."
Cruz is batting .299 and leads the Mariners with 14 homers and 46 RBIs.
***Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw a 50-pitch bullpen workout in two sessions and, barring a day-after setback, will throw two simulated innings Sunday in his recovery from a sore shoulder.
Iwakuma threw 20 pitches in the bullpen, then rested before throwing 30 more pitches. He was diagnosed with shoulder inflammation after a May 3 start against the Los Angeles Angels.
The tentative plan calls for Iwakuma to begin a minor-league rehab assignment after the simulated game. That could position him to rejoin the rotation in late June or early July.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners