By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Seattle Mariners left-hander James Paxton moved one step closer to returning from his extended stay on the disabled list by experiencing no problems in throwing 32 pitches over two innings of a simulated game.
“It went really well,” he said. “Arm is feeling great. Really loose. Some good rhythm out there. Pitches were coming along really well.
“Obviously, I have a little fine-tuning to do. But for the first sim game, I thought it was really good.”
Paxton won his first two starts this season before a strained back muscle April 8 against the Angels forced him to the disabled list. He made one rehab start May 25 for Tacoma but shoulder soreness put him back on the shelf.
His latest recovery effort — so far — is going smoothly.
“He threw all four pitches (in the simulated game),” pitching coach Rick Waits said, “and they were all good. Good timing. He’s been working a lot on his timing, and his timing was excellent today.”
Plans call for Paxton to throw 50 pitches Saturday in three simulated innings. After that, club personnel will determine whether he requires a third simulated game or can be sent on a rehab assignment.
If he departs after Saturday, Paxton will likely head to Class A Everett for one start because Tacoma will be on the Class AAA All-Star break.
Outfielder Michael Saunders, who batted leadoff again Tuesday, seems to have found a home in the top one-third of the lineup.
A .266 hitter overall in 62 games, Saunders is batting .303 (33-for-109) in 31 games while batting leadoff (13 games), second (15) or third (three) in the lineup.
Saunders also five homers and 21 RBI in those 31 games. He has just one homer and seven RBI in 75 at-bats when not batting in the top one-third of the lineup.
Hisashi Iwakuma, Danny Farquhar and Fernando Rodney combined to record 14 strikeouts without issuing a walk in Monday’s 2-0 victory over the Twins.
It marked just the third time in franchise history that Mariners’ pitchers had 14 or more strikeouts without allowing a walk. Iwakuma had 10 strikeouts, while Farquhar and Rodney each had two.
The three previous times occasions:
¦ Randy Johnson struck out 19 without a walk in a 4-1 loss to Oakland on June 24, 1997.
¦ Johnson (15) and Norm Charlton (two) combined for 17 strikeouts on June 14, 1993 in a 6-3 victory over Kansas City.
¦ Mark Langston had 16 strikeouts and no walks in a complete game on May 10, 1988 in a 4-2 victory at Toronto.
Iwakuma joined some select company Monday by getting the victory after pitching seven shutout innings against the Twins. In doing so, he pushed his career record to 30-15 while lowering his ERA to 2.89.
Only two other pitchers over the last 25 years reached 30 victories with 15 or fewer losses and a sub-3.00 ERA: Mike Mussina (30-12, 2.68) and Roy Oswalt (30-9, 2.90).
Iwakuma also improved to 5-0 against the Twins without allowing an earned run. The last pitcher to do that was Larry Jaster of the Cardinals, who threw five shutouts against the Dodgers in 1966.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he isn’t yet ready to announce a starter for Thursday’s series finale against the Twins. The slot became open when he opted to push back Felix Hernandez by one day in order to have him face first-place Oakland. … Several clubs, including Milwaukee, are showing interest in right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, whose next scheduled start is Friday for Tacoma. … The Mariners entered Tuesday with a 42-27 record since April 23. Only two teams are better — but both are in the American League West. Oakland was 43-26, and Los Angeles was 42-26.
Class AA Jackson third baseman D.J. Peterson is the only Mariners’ prospect to crack Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 rankings. Peterson was ranked 46th.
Two other players ranked by the magazine in its preseason Top 100, pitchers Taijuan Walker and Paxton, are on the big-league club. Paxton is currently on the disabled list because of a strained back muscle.
Peterson, 22, was the club’s first-round pick in 2013. He was recently promoted to Jackson from Class Hi-A High Desert and is batting .320 overall in 77 games with 20 homers and 79 RBI.
It was four years ago today — July 9, 2010 — that the Mariners traded pitchers Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak, infielder Matt Lawson and pitchers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke.
The Mariners and Twins continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. today at Safeco Field. Left-hander Roenis Elias (7-7 with a 4.19 ERA) will face Minnesota right-hander Kyle Gibson (7-7, 4.17).
The series concludes Thursday night. The Mariners then conclude their pre-break schedule with three weekend home game against Oakland.