By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
The initial assessment Friday from Mariners left-hander James Paxton brimmed with optimism after he threw from a mound for the first time since a strained back muscle forced his exit from the April 8 home opener against the Angels.
“Felt awesome,” Paxton said. “It was nice to get back up on the mound, that’s for sure. It has been a little while, so it was exciting to get back up there and throw some pitches.”
It was just 25 pitches, all fastballs and change-ups, but it represented a major step in Paxton’s effort to return to the Mariners’ rotation.
“It didn’t look like he’d missed any time at all,” pitching coach Rick Waits said. “We kept his intensity lower, obviously. He wasn’t near game intensity, of course, but he threw a lot of strikes. You see the smile on his face when he finishes, and you don’t even have to ask him how he feels. He’ll throw again on Sunday.”
That session will likely be 35-40 pitches and Paxton likely will be limited to fastballs and change-ups. A third bullpen session, targeted at mid-week, should include the added stress of throwing breaking pitches.
Barring a setback, Paxton should then shift to simulated games, most likely a two-inning game, followed by a four-inning game. After that, he should be ready to begin a minor-league rehab assignment.
“His path will probably be similar to (Hisashi) Iwakuma’s,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon, “to do as much building as you need to do to get him back out there. I imagine the same thing for (Taijuan) Walker.”
Walker, who has battled shoulder soreness, is scheduled to throw from a mound Sunday for the first time since mid-April.
“He looks great,” Waits said. “He’s got a nice, loose arm (in recent throwing sessions on flat ground). He’s excited about getting on the mound, too.”
Iwakuma opened the season on the disabled list because of a strained ligament in his middle finger. His first bullpen workout was April 9, and he returned to the rotation in a May 3 start at Houston. A similar plan projects, roughly, a June 1 return for Paxton, with Walker returning a few days later — if, that is, all goes well.
On Friday, at least, it couldn’t have gone better.
“Playing catch and throwing long toss, I haven’t felt anything,” Paxton said, “I wasn’t even thinking about it when I got up on the mound. I was thinking about my pitches and getting them to the bottom of the strike zone.”