MINNEAPOLIS — It was more steady progress for James Paxton and Taijuan Walker in their return to the Mariners’ starting rotation.
Paxton threw 36 pitches in a two-inning simulated game on Saturday afternoon at Target Field. Paxton faced teammates Cole Gillespie, Stefen Romero, Logan Morrison and John Buck.
“It came out OK,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. I suspect he’ll build on that. For his first time out, I thought he did OK.”
Paxton’s first pitch shattered the bat of Romero. He gave up a few hard hits. Gillespie sent a rocket back up the middle against him and Morrison hit a pitch off the wall in right field.
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But it was a solid outing. It was the first time Paxton pitched against a hitter of any sort since straining his right latissimus dorsi on April 8.
“It felt pretty good,” Paxton said. “It’s getting better from the bullpens. I left some pitches over the middle, which you saw. But overall, there was no pain, my stuff is feeling good and I’m making progress.”
Paxton said he was throwing at about 85 percent of his normal game level.
“It’s hard to get the adrenaline going in these things,” he said. “It’s like when you throw these things in spring training. It’s a little tough. Overall, I felt great. I feel like it’s a big step forward.”
Walker threw a 55-pitch bullpen session shortly after Paxton’s sim game. He was very pleased with the results.
“Everything was sharp but my cutter,” he said. “It’s the second time I’m throwing it in my bullpens.”
But the important aspect is that Walker felt strong and had no pain in his throwing shoulder.
“My arm felt good,” he said. “I got stronger at the end. I feel like I’ve gotten better with each bullpen. My arm strength is building up.”
Paxton and Walker will likely throw simulated games on Tuesday in Texas. Paxton will go four innings and Walker will pitch two. Will Paxton and Walker head on rehab assignments after throwing two simulated games, similar to Hisashi Iwakuma’s schedule?
“I think Iwakuma was a little more advanced than these guys are,” McClendon said. “It was his finger not his arm. We’ll see how Paxton is as after this next one and go from there.”
Besides hitting in the sim game, Morrison also ran the bases under the supervision of trainer Rick Griffin.
“I think he’s getting close,” McClendon said. “He doesn’t seem to be restricted on the basepaths.”
When asked if he could tell the difference, McClendon grinned and replied: “He’s moving as slow as ever.”
• With some media outlets keeping track of the number of games Robinson Cano has gone without hitting a homer — 26 games since April 17 — questions about Cano’s numbers have been raised to McClendon. He shrugged them off.
“I’m not concerned about his power at all,” he said. “I challenge anybody to hit the ball as far as he did yesterday. What is it, 415 to that gap? He hit the ball pretty good without a lot of effort, just flicking his wrists. I’m not concerned because if you look at the history of this guy, when it gets hot, he gets hot. He really turns it on. And he turns it on like you’ve never seen.”
• Brandon Maurer was not listed as a starter for the two-game series with the Rangers. With an off-day Monday, McClendon chose to skip Maurer. He will be available as a long reliever in Arlington.