The game before the game Friday could play a key role in any chance the Mariners have in reviving their increasingly slender postseason hopes.
James Paxton and Felix Hernandez are each scheduled to test their recovery from injuries by pitching against one another in a simulated game before the Mariners open a three-game weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
If all goes well — and not much has gone well lately for the Mariners — Paxton and Hernandez should rejoin the rotation on a limited basis next week when the club travels to Texas and Houston.
"We’ll be glad to have them back," manager Scott Servais said. "They will not be able to go out and throw 75-to-80 pitches right out of the chute."
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It is more likely that Paxton and Hernandez will each be limited to 60 pitches, possibly fewer, in their first starts. That pitch limit should climb in subsequent outings, and it’s possible that each could make four starts before the season ends.
In a simulated game, a pitcher faces hitters (from his own club) in a controlled setting. He is generally limited to 15-to-20 pitches before sitting to simulate the time when his club would be batting.
The process is then repeated for another one or two innings.
Hernandez hasn’t pitched since renewed problems with bursitis in his shoulder surfaced during a July 31 start at Texas. Paxton exited an Aug. 10 start against the Angels after suffering a strained left pectoral muscle.
This marks the second extended stay for both this season on the disabled list.
Hernandez missed 54 games from late April to mid-June because of previous shoulder problems. Paxton missed 24 games in May because of a strained left forearm muscle.
Plans are fluid at this point for their return to the rotation and entirely dependent on how they respond physically during the simulated game and in subsequent days.
But in a best-case scenario, the best guess is one will return Sept. 14 at Texas, and the other will return Sept. 15 at Houston. That would permit each to make four starts before the season ends.
Servais said earlier in the week the Mariners will set up a piggyback arrangement whenever Paxton and Hernandez return to the rotation. That means another starting pitcher will be lined up to pitch extended innings.
Typically, that second pitcher prepares as if he is starting the game in terms of his warmup routine. If Hernandez or Paxton gets knocked out early, a regular reliever will likely be summoned until the piggyback starter completes his preparations.
Piggyback arrangements are common in spring training and in the minor leagues. They rarely occur in the big leagues and are rarer still for a club still hoping to mount a postseason push.
***Right-hander Mike Leake (1-0 with 2.57 ERA) makes his second start since arriving from St. Louis in an Aug. 30 trade when the Mariners open a three-game series against the Angels at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field.
***Leake said the series opener "will set the tone" for any postseason push the Mariners hope to make when he discussed his sudden interim status as the club’s ace earlier this week with our John McGrath.
***The Angels are starting Ricky Nolasco (6-12, 5.08) on Friday. He is 1-0 with a 4.07 ERA in four previous starts this season against the Mariners.
***The Angels hold a 9-4 edge in the season series, including a decisive four-game sweep in an Aug. 10-13 visit to Safeco Field. The two clubs conclude the regular season in a Sept. 29-Oct. 1 series at Anaheim.
***The Mariners are 69-71 with 22 games remaining and trail Minnesota by four games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. There are also five clubs between the Mariners and Twins.
***One of those five teams is the Angels, who are 72-68 and one game behind the Twins.
***Hi-A Modesto is the only Mariners’ affiliate still playing. The Nuts hold a 2-0 lead over Stockton (Athletics) in the best-of-five California League North Division finals. The third game is Friday at Stockton.
It was 22 years ago Friday — Sept. 8, 1995 — that the Mariners beat Kansas City 4-1 at the Kingdome and pulled into a virtual tie with Royals in the American League wild-card race.
Randy Johnson gave up one run in seven innings and improved to 14-2. Luis Soho keyed the offense with a two-run homer in the third inning.
The Mariners, after the victory, still trailed California by six games in the AL West race. The Mariners eventually caught the Angels and won a tiebreaker game to reach postseason for the first time in franchise history.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners