By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — With the weather threatening less than ideal conditions Tuesday at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, the Seattle Mariners shifted gears and kept rehabbing right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma at Safeco Field for another simulated game.
Everything suggests it went well.
“The feel for the game is coming back gradually,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I felt a lot better than that sim game (last Friday) in Miami.
“The ball jumped out of my hand pretty well today. I feel pretty close now to the regular season.”
Iwakuma threw 58 pitches over four simulated innings. Plans now call for him to throw 75 pitches Sunday for Class AAA Tacoma at Las Vegas (Mets). If that goes well, Iwakuma could then rejoin the big-league rotation.
“We’ll see,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon cautioned. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Iwakuma, an All-Star in 2013, is recovering from a strained ligament in his middle finger, which was diagnosed in early February. Reports from others suggest he’s close to top form.
“It’s moving all over the place,” said utilityman Willie Bloomquist, who served as one of the hitters against Iwakuma. Added catcher John Buck: “Awesome. Nasty.”
The shift in plans provided a benefit. The Mariners were better able to control conditions in the simulated game, which permitted Iwakuma to work beyond the 45 pitches planned for his outing in Tacoma.
“We could actually get the pitch count up a little more than we anticipated,” McClendon said. “As you could see, we had him cover some bases, throw to some bases. We had a guy bunt on him. All in all, I thought it went very well.
“I thought he had better finish to the fastball, better finish to the breaking ball. I thought he was sharper.”
A Sunday start for Tacoma could position Iwakuma, on normal rest, to pitch May 2 when the Mariners open a three-game series at Houston.
If all goes well.
“I think you have to be patient,” McClendon said, “because we’re talking about a guy who is not a one-year wonder. I plan on this guy being around a long time because I plan on being around a long time.
“I want to make sure I take care of him.”
McClendon offered up an extended “take” in his pre-game session with reporters on why it’s too early to be overly concerned by his club’s disappointing play, which included a seven-game skid entering Tuesday night’s game.
“You leave spring training with a club,” he said. “You feel good about that club. You’re 20 games into the season, and you’re not playing as well as you should be playing. You don’t drastically change your feelings, about how you feel about those players.
“You continue to encourage them. You continue to make them better. You continue to prod them and, hopefully, in the very near future, they’ll get going the way you think they can. That’s our plan here.
“I don’t plan to make any drastic changes. I don’t feel any different about my players now than I felt coming out of spring training. I like my club. I think we’re talented. Are we short in some areas? Yes. But I like my club, and I like the pitching.
“We’re banged up a little bit. We’ve been dealt a tough hand, but we’ll deal with that. We’ll bluff our way through it, and we’ll be just fine.”
McClendon added he believes it takes “50 games to know what type of club you have. I haven’t gotten off of that. Guys are in a funk right now. And listen, when you lose seven in a row, guys press a little bit. That’s just the nature of the business.
“But at some point, you’ve got to come out of it, and they will. Maybe it’s a broken-bat single. Maybe it’s a home run. I don’t know, but I’ll know when it happens. You will, too. It’s just the way it is.”
Logan Morrison is likely to require some at-bats on a minor-league rehab assignment, McClendon said, before returning from the disabled list.
Morrison strained his right hamstring while stretching just prior to the April 14 game at Texas. He was batting .150 (3-for-20) in eight games prior to the injury.
Eight is enough already: The Mariners, prior to Tuesday, had been outscored 17-0 in the eighth inning. … The Mariners’ seven-game skid, entering Tuesday, coincides with a lack of clutch hitting. They were 7-for-45 in those games with runners in scoring position. … Felix Hernandez, despite losing Monday, became the first pitcher in club history to open the season with five starts of six or more innings while allowing two or fewer runs in each outing.
Class Hi-A High Desert third baseman D.J. Peterson left Monday’s 14-9 victory over Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) because of hamstring tightness. His status is regarded as “day to day.”
Peterson, 22, was the Mariners’ top pick in the 2013 draft and is generally regarded as the club’s top non-pitching prospect. He was batting .290 with one homers and 11 RBI in 17 games for the Mavericks.
High Desert infielder Patrick Kivlehan was picked as the California League player of the week for April 14-20 after batting .385 (10 for 26) in six games with five homers and nine RBI.
Kivlehan, 24, was the Mariners’ fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft. He entered Tuesday batting .307 overall in 18 games with seven homers and 18 RBI.
It was five years ago Wednesday — April 23, 2009 — that Ichiro Suzuki opened the bottom of the first inning with a home run against Tampa Bay right-hander James Shields at Safeco Field.
It was the game’s only run in a 1-0 victory. Felix Hernandez pitched seven innings before David Aardsma and Brandon Morrow completed the shutout.
Suzuki’s homer marked the 22nd time in major-league history that a leadoff homer decided a game.
The Mariners conclude their three-game series against Houston at 12:40 p.m. today at Safeco Field. Right-hander Chris Young (0-0 with a 3.27 ERA) will face Astros right-hander Jarred Cosart (1-2 and 7.36). Root Sports will carry the game.