Check off another box — a key one — for Mariners left-hander Drew Smyly in his rehab effort after suffering an elbow injury in late March.
Smyly threw 50 pitches, including 25 in a simulated inning against a hitter (Taylor Motter) prior to Saturday’s game against Houston at Safeco Field.
"It was good," Smyly said. "Another good step. Getting a hitter in the box, obviously, upped the intensity a little. Got some adrenaline going. It was encouraging. Now just wake up and see how I feel (Sunday)."
The first simulated inning is a major hurdle because, barring overnight problems and/or subsequent setbacks, it puts a rough timetable in place for Smyly’s return to active duty.
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Pencil in that return for some point in the July 17-19 series at Houston.
"I’ve watched his whole progression (in the rehab process)," pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said, "and everything just gets better. He takes his intensity up like 10 percent each time. He paced himself today, which is what I asked him to do.
"Facing hitters, obviously there’s a little adrenaline. He’s in a good place to be able to move forward."
Smyly’s ability to command his pitches in Saturday’s session drew positive comments from general manager Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and Stottlemyre.
Servais said: "I thought he looked pretty darn good. He was pretty free and easy. Very encouraged by what I saw today."
Tentative plans call for Smyly to pitch two simulated innings June 28 before departing on a three-start rehab assignment, which should begin July 1 or July 2 at Triple-A Tacoma, which is playing Albuquerque on those dates at Cheney Stadium.
The Mariners acquired Smyly, 28, from Tampa Bay in a Jan. 11 trade for outfielder Mallex Smith, shortstop Carlos Vargas and pitcher Ryan Yarbrough.
Smyly made two scoreless spring starts before joining the United States in the World Baseball Classic. He made just one appearance, when he permitted one unearned run over 4 2/3 innings on March 15 in a start against Venezuela.
Coincidence or not, Smyly wasn’t the same pitcher when he returned to the Mariners. He gave up three homers to Cincinnati in his next spring start and, shortly thereafter, was diagnosed as having a strained flexor bundle in his elbow.
Recovery time: At least two months. Probably three.
"It’s been the worst," he said at one point in the rehab process. "For the team, it’s been brutal. Individually, you want to come over here and play right away and show the team what you can do."
That time is coming.
"(The elbow) is feeling good," Smyly said. "It’s feeling strong. I've just got to keep progressing and try to build up, but I’m encouraged at where I’m at right now."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners