SEATTLE — While the Mariners’ rehab spotlight focused Friday on Felix Hernandez’s start at Triple-A Tacoma — and understandably so — keep an eye on what happens Saturday with the Rainiers at Cheney Stadium.
Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush, after more than a year on the disabled list, finally shows signs that he might be soon be ready to rejoin the big-league club.
Furbush, 30, is scheduled for his fourth rehab assignment Saturday when Tacoma plays Colorado Springs (Brewers). He exited Friday after two-thirds of an inning when hit by a drive.
Given all of Furbush’s setbacks in his biceps and shoulder over the last year, this seemed like merely the latest disappointment. But no. Furbush was laughing off the incident Friday in the clubhouse at Safeco Field.
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"It hit me in the back," he said. "More on the meat than anything. But I felt good (before that). This was a precaution. They wanted to take me out. But, overall, I’m feeling good, and I’ll be heading back down there (Saturday) to do it again."
Even manager Scott Servais chose to joke about it: "He’d better start putting the ball in better places."
Furbush began his rehab assignment July 8 at Short-A Everett — one year and one day after his last big-league appearance. It didn’t go well. His velocity was down, and he gave up a pair of homers in two-thirds of an inning.
He pitched again July 11 at Everett, and he issued two walks in allowing one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning. Then came Thursday’s outing at Tacoma.
"I felt my best (Thursday) night but, unfortunately, I got hit in the back," he said. "That’s part of being a pitcher, I guess. But I felt good. That’s what was most important for me. I came out and felt strong.
"I threw seven pitches and seven strikes. Something to build off of."
Furbush said plans call for another one-inning outing after Saturday, then perhaps a back-to-back tests and maybe a two-inning appearance. If all goes well, he could be ready for active duty before the end of July.
"It’s been up and down," he admitted, "but I finally feel that I’m make progress and everything is going the way it should be going. I’m hoping to be back up here in the next couple of weeks. I feel good. I feel strong. Everything is looking up."
***Right-hander Nick Vincent’s recovery remains on hold after he experienced renewed problems in his middle-back muscle strain when he recently tried to resume throwing.
"I threw from 60 feet for five-to-10 minutes," he said, "and I felt the same thing. I got a shot Monday, and it’s cooled down since then. There’s no date (to resume throwing) until this completely goes away. It’s still nagging."
Vincent hasn’t pitched since June 26. He was 2-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 35 games prior to the injury.
Mike Montgomery’s follow-up opportunity after a strong outing July 10 at Kansas City in the final game prior to the break will be Sunday in the series finale against the Astros.
Montgomery limited the Royals to one run and five hits over 6 1/3 innings in an 8-5 victory. His spot start came after 30 relief appearances. It now appears he will get a chance to remain in the rotation.
"Oh, no doubt," Servais acknowledged. "He threw the ball very well in Kansas City. He’ll get another shot against a good team here in Houston, and we’ll see how that goes."
Servais said Wade LeBlanc and Wade Miley will start Monday and Tuesday in the first two games against the Chicago White Sox. Hernandez is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the rotation for Wednesday’s series finale.
***Right-hander Taijuan Walker remains in a walking boot for a few more days after his examination and treatment last Sunday by Dr. Bob Anderson, a foot-and-ankle specialist in Charlotte, N.C.
Walker is recovering from tendinitis in his right foot — specifically, posterior tibial tendinitis; the tendon that attaches the calf to the bones on the inside of the foot.
"Once he gets the boot off," Servais said, "he’ll start doing some mobility stuff. It’s kind of what we thought it was all along. It’s something he should be able to pitch with. He’s going to have to figure out the best way to manage it."
LEE FEELING BETTER
The four-day break apparently had the desired healing effect on Dae-Ho Lee’s bruised right hand. Lee started Friday at first base against the Astros.
"We had a workout (Thursday)," Servais said. "He showed up and swung the bat. This is the first time in 10 days that he felt it was not an issue. It certainly has calmed down."
Lee said the problem surfaced on the road trip just prior to the All-Star break and became increasingly sore as he continued to play. He carried a .288 average into Friday’s game with 12 homers and 37 RBIs in 64 games.
The Mariners will get to experience life under the lights at Wrigley Field for the final game in their upcoming series against the Cubs in Chicago.
ESPN selected the July 31 game for its national cablecast. It will start at 5:08 p.m. Pacific time.
It will mark the Mariners’ first appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball since June 6, 2004, when they scored three runs in the ninth inning for a 5-4 walk-off victory over the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAFECO
Safeco Field turned 17 on Friday.
The park debuted on July 15, 1999 when the Mariners suffered a 3-2 loss to San Diego after the Padres scored two runs in the ninth inning against closer Jose Mesa.
The Mariners, prior to Friday’s game, were 767-699 since the park opened.
Fourteen parks have opened since Safeco Field: Detroit, San Francisco and Houston in 2000; Milwaukee and Pittsburgh in 2001; Cincinnati in 2003; San Diego and Philadelphia in 2004; St. Louis in 2006; Washington in 2008; both New York clubs got new parks in 2009; Minnesota in 2010, and Miami in 2012.
O’NEILL TOPS REVISED RANKINGS
Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill leapt to No. 1 in revised midseason rankings of the Mariners’ prospects by Baseball America. He was No. 4 prior to the season.
"O’Neill improved his plate discipline and has cut his strikeout rate down nearly seven percentage points with Double-A Jackson," the magazine reported, "and is now seeing increases across the board because of better pitch selection."
The rest of the revised Top 10 (with pre-season rankings in parenthesis):
2. RHP Nick Neidert (5), 3. SS Drew Jackson (3), 4. LHP Luiz Gohara (6), 5. RHP Andrew Moore (8), 6. OF Alex Jackson (1), 7. 1B D.J. Peterson (10), 8. OF Braden Bishop (7), 9. OF Luis Liberato (13) and 10. LHP Ryan Yarbrough (14).
Others in pre-season Top 10: No. 2 RHP Edwin Diaz is now in the big leagues; No. 9 OF Boog Powell is serving a suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
It was 18 years ago Saturday — July 16, 1998 — that Randy Johnson came within five outs of what would have been his second career no-hitter. He settled for a one-hitter in a 3-0 victory over Minnesota at the Kingdome.
Johnson lost his no-hitter on a ground-ball single up the middle by Brent Gates with one out in the eighth inning. Johnson struck out 11 and walked three while pitching a complete game.
It was Johnson who pitched the first of the four complete-game no-hitters in franchise history in a 2-0 victory over Detroit on June 2, 1990 at the Kingdome.
The others: Chris Bosio (1993 vs. Boston), Felix Hernandez (2012 vs. Tampa Bay) and Hisashi Iwakuma (2015 vs. Baltimore).
Johnson got his second no-hitter on May 18, 2004 while pitching for Arizona when he pitched a perfect game in a 2-0 victory at Atlanta. The losing pitcher that day was current Mariners bullpen coach Mike Hampton.
Third baseman Kyle Seager entered the weekend with six three-run homers, which led the majors. Four players, including first baseman Adam Lind, had five…The Mariners emerged from the All-Star break with a plus-51 run differential, which ranked fourth among American League clubs. A year ago, they resumed play at minus-48, which ranked 14 among the 15 AL clubs…Robinson Cano’s streak of 148 consecutive starts, entering Friday, was the longest in the majors. Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar ranked second at 97. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve had the longest overall consecutive-game streak at 180.
The Mariners and Astros continue their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (9-6 with a 4.25 ERA) will face Houston right-hander Lance McCullers (4-3, 3.79).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners