By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Everything remains thumbs-up for ailing Seattle Mariners pitchers James Paxton and Taijuan Walker in their efforts to return to the rotation.
Both threw bullpen workouts prior to Wednesday’s series finale against Tampa Bay at Safeco Field.
“Great, feel great,” Paxton said after a 52-pitch session in which he “threw everything.” It was his third bullpen workout in his recovery from a strained back (latissimus dorsi) muscle and puts him in line for the next step.
“Sim(ulated) game on Saturday (in Minneapolis),” Paxton said.
Tentative plans call for Paxton to work two simulated games and then head out on a minor-league rehab assignment. (Pitchers face hitters in simulated games but take extended breaks to mirror game conditions.)
Walker threw 40 pitches in his second bullpen workout since the latest flare-up of shoulder soreness. He mixed in a few curveballs and cutters to an otherwise fastball/changeup repertoire.
“Good, really good,” Walker reported. “My fastball location was really good today.”
Plans call for Walker to throw another bullpen workout Saturday in Minneapolis. Barring problems, he should then be ready to move onto simulated games.
Hard on the hands
Mariners catcher John Buck somehow avoided a broken hand when a foul tip struck his throwing hand in the seventh inning. The ball off the bat of Ryan Hanigan slammed into the knuckles on Buck’s right hand.
“I thought it was bad,” Buck said. “I think what helped is I was holding it loose. I think it worked itself out, but it’s a little sore.”
Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist wasn’t as fortunate on a slide at second base when he was thrown out stealing to end the fifth inning. Zobrist suffered a dislocated left thumb and left the game.
It’s likely Zobrist will miss several games. Club officials said he will remain with the Rays on their trip to Los Angeles before being reevaluated when the club returns home.
For the books
Hisashi Iwakuma achieved a franchise first in Tuesday night’s disappointing no-decision in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
Iwakuma became the first Mariners’ pitcher to pitch back-to-back games of eight or more shutout innings without allowing a walk.
No pitcher since San Diego’s Randy Jones in 1980 has pitched three straight games of eight or more scoreless innings without allowing a walk. (Jones pitched three straight complete-game shutouts with no walks.)
Iwakuma struck out five with no walks against the Rays before handing a 1-0 lead to Fernando Rodney. Last Thursday, Iwakuma struck out seven in eight innings against Kansas City before Rodney closed out a 1-0 victory.
In all, Iwakuma has allowed just one walk, while striking out 15, over 222/3 innings in his three starts since returning from the disabled list. He also has allowed just four runs (and 14 hits) for a 1.59 ERA.
Outfielder/DH Logan Morrison is making progress in his recovery from a strained right hamstring, and will travel with the Mariners on the upcoming road trip and take part in the simulated games.
But don’t look for him in the lineup anytime soon. Not the Mariners’ lineup anyway.
“He’s definitely going to have to go out (on a minor-league rehab assignment),” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s been out a while. He will definitely go out, and he will take full advantage of the rehab situation.”
Such assignments can last 20 days for non-pitchers.
Morrison was batting .150 (3-for-20) in eight games before suffering the injury prior to the April 14 game at Texas.
“ I just know he needs to go get some at-bats and get right,” McClendon said. “He was hitting (.150) when he got hurt. It’s not like he was hitting .350. So he needs to get some at-bats.”
The Mariners, at 20-20, have their first non-losing record after 40 games since they were 25-15 in 2003. … Tom Wilhelmsen pitched a scoreless seventh inning and has a streak of 121/3 scoreless innings since April 21. … When Robinson Cano drew a walk in the seventh inning, it extended his streak of reaching base safely at least once to 23 games. … Lefty Randy Wolf, released by the Mariners late in spring training, signed with Miami after opting out of his minor-league deal with Arizona. The Mariners released Wolf after he declined to accept a 45-day advance release clause. The Mariners then signed Chris Young, who agreed to such a clause. The 45-day period expired Tuesday, which means Young’s $1.25 million deal is now guaranteed.
It was one year ago today — May 15, 2013 — that Raul Ibanez highlighted a seven-run first inning at New York by hitting a grand slam in a 12-3 victory over the Yankees.
The slam was notable: Ibanez became the oldest player ever to hit a grand slam at Yankee Stadium — either Yankee Stadium (i.e., back to 1923) — at 40 years and 347 days.
The Mariners have an open date today before opening a five-game road trip Friday with the first of three weekend games at Minnesota.
Right-hander Chris Young (3-0 with a 2.63 ERA) will pitch the opener against the Twins, who are starting right-hander Kyle Gibson (3-3 and 3.74). Root Sports will carry the game.
The road trip concludes next week with two games at Texas.