Mariners Insider Blog

Mariners make another pitching swap but moving closer to having a healthy staff

Felix Hernandez will be back at Cheney Stadium on Saturday night.
Felix Hernandez will be back at Cheney Stadium on Saturday night. AP

Pitchers shuttle between the Mariners and Triple-A Tacoma on an almost-daily basis. It happened again prior to Friday’s series opener against the Texas Rangers — although with a slight twist.

The Mariners, as expected, optioned right-hander Chase De Jong to to the Rainiers one day after he pitched four innings in a loss at Minnesota. And for the usual reason: They wanted to have a fresh arm available as a long reliever.

Enter lefty Zac Curtis, who returned for the second time this season not from Tacoma but from Double-A Arkansas, where he has a 2.66 ERA in 19 games. More important: He hasn’t pitched since Wednesday and is on the 40-man roster.

The Tacoma shuttle isn’t slowing down yet, but it will offer a different look over the next few days when Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, long-time mainstays in the big-league rotation, head to Cheney Stadium for rehab starts.

Hernandez and Iwakuma could each return next week to active duty.

"The light is getting a little bit brighter," manager Scott Servais agreed. "We’re not there yet, and I think it’s important that we stay with the process until we get to that point."

The Rainiers should also get another short-term boost in shortstop Jean Segura, who is nearly recovered from a high right ankle sprain and likely to play a few rehab games to sharpen his timing before returning from the disabled list.

Hernandez is slotted for six innings and 80-85 pitches Saturday against Salt Lake (Angels) at 7:05 p.m. It is the King’s third, and likely final, rehab start in his recovery from bursitis in his shoulder, which surfaced April 25 at Detroit.

"The first (start) was not good," pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said. "Feeling for his delivery. Not knowing where his hand was. Not able to make pitches. Bad counts. Bad pitches.

"We made some adjustments in his (next) bullpen, and he took to those quickly and had a nice (second) outing. He’s ready to go. I just want to see him get up to 85 pitches…so we can get what we need out of our horse."

Iwakuma follows two days later (June 19), also against Salt Lake, in his second rehab start. He was diagnosed with inflammation his shoulder after a May 3 start against the Los Angeles Angels.

Plans call for Iwakuma to throw roughly 70 pitches over five or six innings as a follow-up to his four shutout innings June 14 at Hi-A Modesto against San Jose (Giants).

"He’s not a 115-pitch guy anyway," Stottlemyre said. "If we can get him to 70-75 (pitches), he can come back and pitch for us and hope to get five or six (innings) and 85."

Drew Smyly is progressing, too. He threw his second bullpen workout Friday, an extended 40-pitch session, in his recovery from a flexor strain in his elbow that surfaced late in spring training.

"If I didn't know about his injury," Stottlemyre said, "I would never know that he had anything wrong…We’re going to do another bullpen, and we’ll bump up the intensity."

Smyly’s timetable roughly follows a typical spring-training format: three or four bullpen workouts and then two or three rounds of live batting practice before shifting to a simulated game prior to starting a rehab assignment.

That schedule, barring setbacks, puts Smyly loosely on schedule to return after the All-Star break.

"We’re not going to know until faces hitters," Stottlemyre said, "and the adrenaline is pumping, and he’s reaching and extending. All good to this point."

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners