SEATTLE — It appears Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma is dealing with just a minor strain in a back muscle, and he hopes to return to the mound in roughly three weeks.
“It’s a mild strain,” he said Saturday after undergoing two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams in the last 24 hours.
“I’m allowed to play catch starting next Friday. So, hopefully, in two-to-three weeks I should be able to pitch — being optimistic.”
The Mariners placed Iwakuma on the 15-day disabled list prior to Friday’s series opener against Minnesota because of a strained back muscle — specifically a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle.
Iwakuma underwent a first MRI exam on Friday night, but the results prompted a call for a second examination to get what manager Lloyd McClendon characterized as “better pictures.”
The lat is a large muscle that connects the back to the arm and, effectively, is the muscle that permits the arm to function. Even strained lats can be stubborn injuries; torn lats often require extensive recovery time.
Dr. E. Edward Khalfayan, the club’s medical director, reviewed results of the two exams and confirmed Iwakuma suffered a Grade 1 strain, the mildest of strains, in his right lat.
Iwakuma was an All-Star in 2013 and won 15 games last season, but he struggled this year in allowing 13 runs and 20 hits over 16 1/3 innings in his three starts.
His poor performances, he insisted, were not connected to the injury, which he said occurred while playing long toss on Tuesday — the day after his start against Houston.
“Toward the end, as I was finishing up,” he said, “I felt it a little bit. A little discomfort. It’s not pain. It’s just discomfort.”
The Mariners responded to that discomfort by placing Iwakuma on anti-inflammatory medication. They decided to delay further action until he threw Friday in his normal between-starts workout.
When Iwakuma reported similar issues Friday, the Mariners placed him on the disabled list and ordered a round of tests to determine the extent of the problem.
The club also recalled lefty reliever Lucas Luetge from Triple-A Tacoma prior to Friday’s game to replace Iwakuma. Luetge worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Saturday’s 8-5 loss to Minnesota before returning to the Rainiers.
Luetge’s return cleared the way for the Mariners to recall lefty Roenis Elias from Tacoma to start Sunday in Iwakuma’s place against the Twins in the series finale.
Iwakuma’s time on the disabled list was backdated to Tuesday, which means he is eligible to be activated on May 6. Even in a best-case scenario, which projects a mid-May return, he figures to miss at least three starts.
KING ZEROES IN
Felix Hernandez recorded his 10th career shutout Friday in a 2-0 victory over the Twins in the series opener, which moved him into sole possession of second place on the Mariners’ all-time list.
Randy Johnson had 19 shutouts from 1989-98. Hernandez moved past Mark Langston (1984-89) and Mike Moore (1982-88), who each had nine shutouts.
Hi-A Bakersfield right-hander Edwin Diaz returned to form Friday in his rematch against San Jose (Giants) by pitching 5 1/3 innings in a 5-0 victory at Bakersfield.
Diaz, 21, had allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings against San Jose in his previous start, a no-decision, after opening the season with 11 scoreless innings over two starts.
Friday’s outing lowered Diaz’s ERA to 1.89 (four earned runs in 19 innings). He has also allowed just eight hits while striking out 20 and walking seven.
Diaz is the highest-ranked pitcher, at No. 6, on the TNT Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects. The Mariners selected Diaz, a Puerto Rican native, in the the third round of the 2012 draft.
It was 25 years ago Sunday — April 26, 1990 — that Ken Griffey Jr. made what might be his most memorable catch when he robbed a homer from Jesse Barfield with an over-the-fence catch at Yankee Stadium.
Griffey’s catch came in the fourth inning and helped the Mariners to a 6-2 victory behind Randy Johnson. It also prevented Barfield from a three-homer game.
There had been no complete games by starting pitchers in the American League until Friday’s game at Safeco Field produced two in the Mariners’s 2-0 victory over the Twins. Felix Hernandez got the victory by pitching a five-hitter over all nine innings, while Twins starter Phil Hughes recorded an eight-inning complete game in a loss…Nelson Cruz, entering Saturday, had 18 RBIs. That’s the most by a Mariner since Raul Ibanez had 19 in 2008. The club record is 30 by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997.
ON TAPThe Mariners and Twins conclude their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. It also completes the Mariners’ nine-game homestand.
Lefty Roenis Elias will be recalled, officially, Sunday morning from Triple-A Tacoma to replace injured Hisashi Iwakuma in the rotation and pitch against Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson (1-2 and 5.87).
Elias is 2-0 at Tacoma despite an 8.04 ERA. He was 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA last season in 29 big-league starts.
The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN and KIRO 97.3 FM.