MINNEAPOLIS — The only real concern Saturday for Mariners left-hander James Paxton, when he faced hitters for the first time in 40 days, surfaced when Cole Gillespie shot a line drive back through the box.
“I knew it wasn’t coming right at me,” Paxton said, “but I definitely flinched.”
Other than that, Paxton counted his 36-pitch outing over two simulated innings as a positive step in his recovery from a strained left back muscle, which forced his removal from the April 8 game against the Angels.
“My pitches felt good,” Paxton said. “It’s getting better from the bullpens (workouts). I left some pitches out over the middle, as you saw. But overall, no pain. My stuff is feeling good. Making progress.”
The next step for Paxton, barring any day-after problems, is a longer simulated game, tentatively set for Tuesday in Texas. That outing might come in a piggyback arrangement with right-hander Taijuan Walker.
The Mariners sent Walker, who is recovering from a sore shoulder, through a 55-pitch bullpen workout shortly after Paxton completed his simulated game. That put Walker on track for two simulated innings as his next test.
“Everything was sharp but my cutter,” Walker said, “but it was just my second time throwing it (in the recovery process).”
Walker’s sore shoulder first surfaced in February, but he made two minor-league rehab starts in early April and appeared poised to rejoin the big-league rotation before the soreness returned.
This time, Walker said, his shoulder feels stronger.
“Oh, I think so,” he said, “because I’m not getting tired in my bullpens. I threw 55 (pitches) today and got stronger at the end.”
With two open dates in a span of five days, the Mariners plan to skip Brandon Maurer’s next turn in the rotation. That means Chris Young, on normal rest, will start Wednesday afternoon at Texas.
“Right now,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “we’ve got guys whose throwing a little better (than Maurer). It gives us help in the bullpen, and he’ll be back in there on the next turn.”
Here’s the adjusted schedule through next weekend: Felix Hernandez will start Sunday’s series finale against the Twins. After an open date Monday, Hisashi Iwakuma and Young will start against the Rangers.
The Mariners return home Thursday for a four-game series against Houston. The scheduled starters are Roenis Elias, Hernandez, Maurer and Iwakuma.
Injured outfielder/DH Logan Morrison took part in the simulated game against Paxton and appears likely to head out this week on a minor-league rehab assignment.
Morrison suffered a strained right hamstring prior to an April 14 game in Texas. The ailment initially responded slowly to treatment, but Morrison has been taking batting practice and running the bases in recent days.
“I think he’s close,” McClendon confirmed. “He’s swinging the bat pretty decent. He doesn’t seem to be restricted on the basepaths. He’s moving as slow as ever.”
Robinson Cano entered Saturday’s game with a streak of reaching base at least once in 24 straight games. The only longer streak in his 10-year career was a 26-game run un 2012 for the Yankees…James Jones is the fourth player in Mariners’ history to get at least one hit in his first eight career starts. The others are Edgar Martinez (10 in 1987), Alvin Davis (nine in 1984) and Paul Serna (eight in 1981)…The seven extra-base hits allowed Friday by Chris Young was a career-worst but fell one shy of the Mariners’ record. Freddy Garcia surrendered eight in a 19-7 victory at Toronto on April 16, 2000. That was Garcia’s third career start…The Mariners have used 38 different batting orders in 42 games…Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson attended Mariner High School in Everett, Everett Community College and the University of Washington. He was inducted into the ECC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
It was six years ago Sunday — May 19, 2008 — that Ichiro Suzuki became the Mariners’ all-time leader in stolen bases when he got No. 291 in a 3-2 victory over San Diego at Safeco Field.
The previous franchise leader was Julio Cruz with 290 from 1977-83.
Suzuki boosted his franchise-best total to 438 steals prior to a 2012 trade that sent him to the New York Yankees. He has 474 steals in his career.
The Mariners conclude their only visit of the season to Target Field at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (4-1 with a 3.03 ERA) will pitch against Twins righty Ricky Nolasco (2-3 and 5.51).
Root Sports will carry the game.
After an open date Monday, the Mariners play Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon at Texas before returning to Safeco Field for an 11-game homestand against the Astros, Angels and Tigers.