Mariners call up another pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma close to a rehab stint and Mitch Haniger expected back on Sunday
Felix Hernandez wasn’t pleased about it. As he walked by in the Mariners clubhouse, he was casually asked what his pitch count would be in Sunday’s rehab start for Class AAA Tacoma at Cheney Stadium.
“Sixty five,” he replied.
Only 65? Wasn’t it supposed to be 80-85?
“Yeah, but they changed it,” he said flatly.
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The reason for the change is that manager Scott Servais, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and the rest of the Mariners’ decision makers have determined that Hernandez needs a third rehab start in his return from shoulder bursitis. The original plan was for Hernandez to make two rehab starts — one of 65 pitches on last Tuesday, one of around 85 pitches on Sunday and then rejoin the Mariners’ rotation for a start on June 17 at Globe Life Park in Arlington against the Rangers.
That plan was altered after Hernandez struggled in that first rehab outing. He needed 50 pitches to make it through two innings while giving up five runs on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Beyond the poor results, Hernandez admitted that he had no rhythm and felt out of sorts with his mechanics. The Mariners decided that just one more rehab start wasn’t enough to correct those issues.
“We’ve talked to Felix, and with how the first one went, we want to make sure he’s ready to go when he goes out there at the big league level,” manager Scott Servais said. “He will probably do another rehab after that. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow. It’s the best thing for him at this time. We are trying to plan for the long haul. We don’t want to rush Felix back and then 10 days from now or two weeks from now, he’s not feeling good and we have to skip a start or something like that. Let’s make sure he’s completely right and on top of his game.”
Asked how ornery Hernandez was about being informed of a third rehab start, Stottlemyre replied: “Real ornery, not happy.”
But Stottlemyre believes it’s the right decision.
“You know he went two (innings) in 50 pitches,” he said. “He struggled with the command. Like I told him, ‘Felix, medically you’re fine and your arm feels good and I’m not concerned about that. But when you come back, we need you to be in a good place with your stuff, not fighting yourself and hitters.’ Right now he’s trying to find himself. It’s not the end of the world. We have a lot of season left.”
The idea of bringing Hernandez back when he isn’t right with his mechanics and command and then trying to pitch in Texas isn’t something the Mariners wanted to test. The emergence and solid performances of Christian Bergman and Sam Gaviglio have allowed them to have some patience with Hernandez.
“I don’t want him to limp through outings, trying to build a pitch count up and find himself and try to get his stuff reeled in,” Stottlemyre said. “I want him to be at a level where he can pitch to a scouting report and get guys out.”
The preliminary schedule would be for Hernandez to pitch on Sunday at Cheney Stadium and then come back and pitch on Saturday at Cheney Stadium again on an extra day of rest. The Rainiers go to El Paso for a quick four-game series on Tuesday through Friday before returning to Tacoma.
Meanwhile the other two injured starting pitchers in the projected rotation are also progressing at an expected rate.
Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled to throw a two-inning simulated game before Sunday’s homestand finale at Safeco Field. If all goes as expected, he would also be ready to go on a rehab stint. He would likely pitch on Wednesday or Thursday with Class A Modesto.
Drew Smyly threw his first bullpen session in his recovery from a flexor strain in his left forearm that has kept him on the disabled list since spring training. Smyly threw 22 fastballs to bullpen catcher Fleming Baez with Stottlemyre watching.
“It was good,” Stottlemyre said. “I’ve watched him go through his rehab and he’s gone through all the normal phases that every other guy does where they question things and there is an unsureness. But today was good. He got a little fatigued at the end. But the ball was coming out of his hand good and I saw zero signs of him holding back or not finishing pitches. It was a good day.”
Smyly will throw a session of 30 fastballs in two to three days.
“We’ll start to build some endurance with some intensity along the way,” Stottlemyre said. “This is spring training for him. He’s probably going to do a half dozen bullpens and then we’ll start into simulated games and then build him up from there at a slow progression. You don’t want to ramp him up too quickly and have him feel some undo soreness due to being in a hurry. We have to be reasonable.”
*** Mitch Haniger (strained oblique) was scheduled to play five innings on Saturday with Class AAA Tacoma to close out his rehab stint. If he comes out of the game feeling well, the Mariners would activate him from the disabled list and put him in the starting lineup on Sunday in the series finale against the Blue Jays.
*** The Mariners made a roster move before Saturday’s game, optioning right-hander Tyler Cloyd to Tacoma and recalling right-hander Emilio Pagan. Cloyed pitched one scoreless inning — his first big league appearance since Sept. of 2013 — and picked up the win on Friday night in relief.
“He did a great job for us last night, but he was designed to be more of a long guy or starting pitcher type and coming back from Tommy John surgery just over a year ago, he’s not lined up to go back-to-back days,” Servais said. “With Tacoma in town, we optioned him back to bring Pagan in for a couple of days. Pagan did a nice job last time he was here. It gives us a fresh arm down there if we need it.”
In his last stint with Seattle, Pagan pitched four shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out four against the Nationals on May 23.
*** Danny Valencia was out of the starting lineup on Saturday night, getting a day to rest.
“Danny just needed a day,” Servais said. “He’s been talking about it for a while. He had the wrist issues a while ago. He’s been swinging the bat great. But he talked with the medical staff about getting him a day and we figured tonight was the game to do it.”