PEORIA, Ariz. – Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t need his translator for the question or the answer.
“Are you happy?” Iwakuma was asked.
Iwakuma’s face broke into a wide grin, as he nodded and said, “Yes, yes.”
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He was soon to be splint free. Earlier on Tuesday, Iwakuma visited hand specialist Dr. Donald Sheridan, who told him the good news that he can soon ditch the irritating plastic contraption that has kept his injured right middle finger locked into place and begin preparing for the 2014 season. Iwakuma will only have to wear the splint during workouts and at night sleeping as a form of protection, otherwise his finger is free.
The injury has been frustrating for Iwakuma, who is coming off a brilliant 2013 season where he finished third in Cy Young voting, was named to the American League All-Star team after posting a 14-6 record with a 2.66 earned-run average and striking out 185 batters in 2192
3 innings pitched.
For five weeks, Iwakuma has been a partial pitcher, relegated to running and conditioning, simulating his mechanics, but unable to actually to throw a baseball as he recovered from a strained tendon in the finger.
“To be honest, it’s been a very, very long five weeks,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “But the doctor said I could take that splint off and do more with that finger — the actual rehab — so that’s a good thing. I’ve done everything I could for the last five weeks.”
The rehab starts with finger exercises to strengthen and return the range of motion.
“The finger is very stiff right now, but the good thing is I am pain free,” Iwakuma said through Suzuki.
On Friday, he will throw for the first time using a tennis ball instead of a baseball. That will continue on Saturday and Sunday.
Why tennis balls?
“Because that’s what the doctor said,” manager Lloyd McClendon replied.
If everything goes well, Iwakuma will throw a baseball on Monday for the first time.
But it could be more than a month before he throws a baseball in a major-league game.
Because of the lengthy time off from throwing, his spring training basically begins now.
Iwakuma must first be pain free in the finger from daily throwing for several days before he can even set foot on a pitcher’s mound. It would be difficult to see Iwakuma being ready before the last week in April.
He wasn’t sure how long it would take for him to be ready to rejoin the rotation.
“It’s hard to say being in my situation right now,” he said. “I want to come back soon, but I don’t want to push it and have any more setbacks. It’s a long season and I look forward to finishing strong. That’s all I have in mind.”
That’s all McClendon has in mind as well. He won’t allow himself to project when Iwakuma might be back. He still has to decide on a rotation to start the season that won’t include Iwakuma or Taijuan Walker.
“I just need to focus on who I’ve got here and what I’ve got available and what I’m dealing with,” McClendon said. “You get caught up in that and you get disappointed. So I don’t even think about it.”
• Brad Miller went 3 for 4 and fell a triple short of hitting for the cycle as the Mariners and San Diego Padres played to a 5-5 tie Tuesday evening at Peoria Stadium. Starting pitcher Randy Wolf tossed four scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks,with three strikeouts.
• Walker will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. It will be 50 pitches and he will mix in breaking balls. If all goes well, Walker will move to a live batting practice or simulated game. Walker is recovering from shoulder bursitis and has had no setbacks thus far.
• Outfielder Cole Gillespie was reassigned to minor-league camp. Gillespie, a nonroster invite, appeared in 14 Cactus League games, hitting .391 (9 for 23) with a double, triple and RBI. The former Oregon State standout will likely be assigned to Class AAA Tacoma.
• The Mariners have reshuffled their rotation. Felix Hernandez will start in a minor-league game on Thursday. Erasmo Ramirez will make the start for the Mariners on Thursday in Mesa against the Cubs.
• Robinson Cano was supposed to arrive Tuesday night from the Dominican Republic. He will be in uniform Wednesday. The expectation is he will also play in the game in Peoria against the Brewers.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish