Seattle Mariners

Mariners positive, 'excited' about Hisashi Iwakuma's recovery from shoulder surgery

Seattle Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, right, greets Nelson Cruz in the dugout before a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, right, greets Nelson Cruz in the dugout before a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP Photo

Of all the injuries to Mariners’ starters, Nelson Cruz is back, Ben Gamel should be on Tuesday, with Mike Zunino shortly to follow and maybe Ryon Healy and Erasmo Ramirez as early as next week.

But what about ... Hisashi Iwakuma?

He threw a bullpen session on Saturday and apparently impressed. Indications from the right-hander’s progression from offseason shoulder debridement surgery have all been positive.

Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. oversaw the bullpen workout.

“Mel said it was pretty good,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Still optimistic he’s going to help us at some point. And the next step is when he’s going to face some hitters.”

He said next up are a workout or two against live batting practice and then a rehab assignment.

And maybe that means he’s appearing with Triple-A Tacoma or elsewhere in as early as a couple of weeks.

“He very well could,” Servais said. “I’m excited. We were just talking about it. I love Kuma and how he does it and how he goes about it. Everybody knows you’re going to need help starting-pitching wise at some point. So it would be nice to get him back into the mix.”

The former All-Star started six games last season and threw just 31 innings with a 4.35 ERA. He signed back with the Mariners on a minor-league contract this offseason.

Mike Zunino.jpg
Seattle Mariners' Mike Zunino is hit by a pitch during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

ZUNINO TO MODESTO

Servais said that catcher Mike Zunino will head to high Single-A Modesto for a three-game series against Stockton beginning on Monday.

That will be Zunino’s first game since he strained his oblique during batting practice the day before the Mariners’ season opener.

The plan is for Zunino to catch for 2-3 innings, DH for a game and then catch a full game before the Mariners reassess whether he is ready to return to Seattle. So he could be back with the Mariners before they complete their four-game series with the Houston Astros Monday-Thursday and before they head to a three-game series with the Rangers.

The Mariners certainly miss his production from the second-half of last season. He had the third-highest wins-above-replacement, according to Fangraphs, of any catcher in baseball last season behind the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez.

But Zunino’s replacements have fared well in his absence.

The Mariners have used Mike Marjama to catch Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake, while David Freitas has caught during James Paxton’s and Marco Gonzales’ starts.

Freitas has generally been viewed as the better defensive option and Marjama the better offensive one, but Freitas has gone 5-for-20 with a pair of doubles in seven games.

“The guy is a monster,” Servais said of the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Freitas. “He’s a big man. He’s put together pretty well and he puts the bat on the ball.

“The biggest thing with both those guys is the focus behind the plate and making sure they’re on the same page with our pitching staff. … Whatever we do, whichever goes down and who stays, it could be a fluid situation.”

Servais said he spoke to Marjama earlier Sunday morning about his transition into the big leagues. Marjama was quickly notified before the Mariners’ Opening Day game against the Indians, with Hernandez on the mound, that he would be starting and catching that day in the place of Zunino.

“I think he continues to get better and more comfortable every time he’s out there,” Servais said. “I think by design we haven’t played one guy a ton more than the other. … I’ve been very happy with what they’ve done so far.”

JACKIE ROBINSON DAY

All player coaches for both the Mariners and Athletics wore No. 42 jerseys in honor of Jackie Robinson, who on April 15, 1947, made his historic MLB debut and broke baseball’s color barrier, starting for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson Cano, who was named after the Hall of Famer, wore customized Dodger blue cleats with a “B” on the outer heel. Robinson’s No. 42 is among the three numbers retired at Safeco Field alongside Ken Griffey Jr.’s 24 and Edgar Martinez’s 11.

Griffey sparked the MLB-wide Jackie Robinson Day when he called then-commissioner Bud Selig in 1997, asking if he could wear Robinson’s jersey.

ON TAP

The Mariners face the World Series-champion Houston Astros for the first time this season, hosting them for a four-game series starting Monday.

Left-hander James Paxton (0-1, 5.74 ERA) will start Monday’s 7:10 p.m. game at Safeco Field, looking for his first win.

The Astros hadn’t released their probable pitchers, but if their normal rotation continued, they would start former Cy Young left-hander Dallas Keuchel (0-1, 3.27 ERA) on Monday, followed by RHP Lance McCullers Jr. on Tuesday, RHP Gerrit Cole on Wednesday and RHP Charlie Morton on Thursday, just missing former MVP and Cy Young RHP Justin Verlander.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
@TJCotterill
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