By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Taijuan Walker and James Paxton each took positive steps on Sunday as they attempt to return from injury.
Both Seattle starting pitchers threw bullpen sessions prior to the Mariners’ series finale against Kansas City — 25 pitches for Walker, 40 for Paxton — and both said they felt fine afterward.
Paxton, the left-hander, already threw a 25-pitch bullpen on Friday, his first work off a mound since he strained a back muscle during his start against the Angels on April 8 and landed on the disabled list. He said his work on Sunday was done at about 80-85 percent, and involved fastballs, changeups and a few curveballs.
“Everything was feeling good today,” Paxton said. “Curveball I was throwing for a strike today, which is nice. I think the next step is getting up and down and getting that time off in between and getting hot and cold.”
Meanwhile, Walker threw from a mound for the first time since he was scratched from a rehab start at Class AAA Tacoma on April 15. The 21-year-old right-hander has been on the 15-day disabled list since March 21 with a shoulder impingement, but he said Sunday’s session was a step in the right direction.
He threw mostly fastballs, with six changeups mixed in.
“The arm felt good. My arm felt normal,” Walker said. “Everything I’ve kind of been working on, (I) just put it on the mound and kind of sync it all together.”
Both pitchers said they plan to throw again on Wednesday. Paxton expects to throw 55 pitches this time, with Walker upping his total to 35.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t seem all that interested in discussing the rehabilitation process of either player.
“I’m concerned about the guys I have, not about the guys I don’t have. So until they’re part of this 25-man roster, I’m not concerning myself with them,” McClendon said. “I guess to answer your question, I don’t follow these guys’ sidelines from day to day or how they throw 60 feet. It really doesn’t concern me. When they can get out on that mound and throw 60 feet, 6 inches, then I’m concerned about them.”
Saunders still day-to-day
Sunday was good news, bad news for the Mariners on the health front. But even the bad news isn’t all that bad.
The good: third baseman Kyle Seager returned to the lineup after missing the last two games — including Saturday, when the Mariners celebrated “Kyle Seager Bat Night” — while battling the flu.
The bad: right fielder Michael Saunders, who left Saturday’s game with what the Mariners termed a hyper-extended left knee, was not in Sunday’s lineup.
But he said tests revealed no ligament damage. An MRI exam will not be necessary. And he said he felt good enough Sunday morning that he could pinch-hit late in the game if the Mariners needed him to. Turned out they did, though Saunders struck out swinging to end the eighth inning in his only at-bat.
McClendon said Saunders remains day-to-day. He fell down while chasing a ball in the outfield during the third inning of Saturday’s game, and didn’t come back out for the fourth.
Replays showed an awkward tweak of his lower leg, but Saunders doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the injury.
“It’s a lot better than I expected. Just hyper-extended it,” Saunders said inside the Mariners clubhouse, his knee wrapped in a soft material. “Felt like I could make the play and then realized I wasn’t going to be able to get there last-second. Tried to pull up, got loose ground, cleats came up from underneath me. Just hyper-extended my knee. It’s a little sore, a little swollen, but nothing that’s going to hinder me from any significant time.”
Saunders joked that the worst part of the play was that Mike Moustakas turned what should have been a single into a triple, then scored on a sacrifice fly, the lone blemish against Mariners starter Chris Young in a 3-1 victory.
“I apologized to Chris afterward. I felt worse about him getting on third and a sac fly than anything,” Saunders said. “He picked me up and pitched a great game, and I’m looking forward to getting out there as soon as possible.
“It’s nothing serious.”
McClendon on Miller
McClendon offered a supportive response to a question about shortstop Brad Miller, whose .164 batting average entering Sunday’s game has many fans wondering how long he’ll be able to stay on the roster without putting together better at-bats.
His manager believes he’ll get through it.
“He’s getting better. He’s starting to take some walks. He’s taking pitches. He’s going deeper into counts,” McClendon said. “I expect him to break out of this any day. I really like what I see. I like his approach. I know he’s frustrated but he’s a strong-minded kid. He’s going to be OK.”
Miller snapped an 0-for-19 slump with a two-RBI double in the third inning on Sunday.
The Mariners continue their 7-game homestand today with the opener of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Felix Hernandez (Monday), Hisashi Iwakuma (Tuesday) and Brandon Maurer (Wednesday) are scheduled to pitch.