SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez and James Paxton continued to push toward a possible return to the Mariners’ rotation by mid-September.
Hernandez reported no day-after problems Saturday after throwing from a mound Friday in a bullpen workout for the first time since renewed bursitis in his shoulder forced him to the disabled list after a July 31 start at Texas.
Paxton was similarly upbeat Saturday after a 27-pitch bullpen workout that marked his first time on a mound since a strained left pectoral muscle forced his departure from an Aug. 10 start against the Los Angeles Angels.
“I had no pain,” Paxton said. “No issues with my pec. It was a positive step in the right direction. The timing was a little bit off, but that’s to be expected.”
Plans calls for both to throw one more bullpen workout and then pitch in a simulated game (where pitchers face hitters in a controlled situation that simulates a game situation by having the pitcher rest after 15-20 pitches before continuing).
The tentative schedule has Hernandez throwing another bullpen on Monday and a simulated game on Sept. 8; Paxton is one day behind on a Sept. 5/Sept. 9 schedule.
If all goes well, each could then return to the rotation four or five days later on a build-up basis — say, 45-50 pitches in their first starts.
“Then we’ll piece it together like we always do,” manager Scott Servais said. “We’re starting to run out of time. It’s got to happen pretty quick, or it’s not going to happen at all.”
Servais said Hisashi Iwakuma threw a 40-pitch bullpen workout Saturday in his recovery from a sore shoulder, but he hasn’t pitched since May 3 and appears less likely to return before the season ends.
Mariners promote Beckham, designate O’Malley
Veteran infielder Gordon Beckham returned to the big leagues Saturday when the Mariners promoted him from Triple-A Tacoma.
Beckham, 30, played eight big-league seasons from 2009-16 with four clubs before signing with the Mariners as a minor-league free agent on March 31 — eight days after he was released by San Francisco.
“Looking at our roster and where we’re at,” Servais said. “(Taylor) Motter is really our only true (backup) middle infielder. It allows us to do some other things. It just makes sure we have coverage in the middle.”
The Mariners cleared space on their 40-man roster for Beckham by designating utilityman Shawn O’Malley for assignment. O’Malley, 29, spent much of the season on the disabled list because of various injuries.
Beckham batted .262 in 83 games at Tacoma with nine homers and 45 RBIs. A first-round pick by the Chicago White Sox in 2008, he has a .240 average in 953 big-league games with 74 homers and 335 RBIs.
“I don’t know how much he is going to play,” Servais said, “but he allows you to maneuver the rest of the guys without fear of running out of a shortstop or a second baseman.”
O’Malley required an emergency appendectomy in March and suffered a shoulder injury during the recovery process. He recently missed 10 days because of a concussion before returning Thursday to the Rainiers.
The injuries limited O’Malley this season to 33 minor-league games at three different levels. He batted .205 in 20 games at Tacoma.
Zunino surging again
The Mike Zunino roller-coaster is heading back up again.
Zunino had a homer and a single in three at-bats Friday when the Mariners ended a five-game skid with a 3-2 victory over Oakland in the start to a three-game weekend series at Safeco Field.
Notably, both hits went to right field, which is typically a signal that Zunino is locked in at the plate. He is 11-for-28 (.393) with three doubles and two homers in his last eight games.
Zunino even joked about wishing he had retrieved the ball after the second hit, the single, because, “I don’t think I’ve had two hits to right (in the same game) in my career.”
It’s been a wild ride.
Zunino began the season in a bad slide that resulted in a two-week demotion in May to Triple-A Tacoma. A revised approached resulted in a monster June when he returned: 10 homers, 31 RBIs and a .304 average in 24 games.
Then regression for roughly six weeks: a .188 average over his next 35 games before his current rebound.
“To overhaul your swing in the middle of the year is very difficult to do,” Servais said. “He’s done it. He had an unbelievable month in June. He kind of fell off the boat for a while, but he got back on.
“He’s made some really good adjustments. He’s got that feel back.”
Zunino’s homer on Friday was his 20th of the season. He had 22 in 2014 but minimized that power impact by batting just .199 with a .254 on-base percentage. His current numbers are far more acceptable at .235 and .314.
The two hits Friday to right field underscore his growth.
“I’ve really just put my focus on at-bats,” he said. “Just having quality at-bats. What I’ve done in making changes has let me be in the zone a little bit longer and be able to drive balls to that side of the field.
“That’s what I want. I want to be able to drive that ball to right-center and stay on it.”