PEORIA, Ariz. – With the news of the last few days, Scott Baker’s first start of spring training suddenly had a little more meaning for the Mariners.
Before Saturday’s game, manager Lloyd McClendon admitted that right-handers Hisashi Iwakuma (strained finger tendon) and Taijuan Walker (shoulder inflammation) won’t be ready for the start of the season.
“I think it’d be hard-pressed for those guys to pitch opening day, or the second or third day,” McClendon said. “One of the problems we face, we don’t have any days off early. We play seven in a row. So speaking realistically, I think it would be tough, yeah.”
With Felix Hernandez locked in at the No. 1 spot and Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton likely to make the rotation, it leaves two spots open. Baker, who is working his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery he had early in 2012, is probably the best candidate for one of those remaining spots.
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On a rare rainy day in Arizona, the skies parted just long enough for Baker to take another step toward grabbing a rotation spot and for the Mariners to play seven innings of baseball and pick up a 5-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels. A deluge of water in the seventh inning ended the game.
Baker pitched two scoreless innings despite allowing the leadoff runner to reach in both. Working from the stretch in both innings, he worked his way out of both predicaments.
“I am happy with it,” Baker said. “I think the biggest thing is just to get out there and not only get a feel for the mound itself. I definitely got a good test with the guys on base. That’s not necessarily what you want, but it is part of the game and you do have to work on it.”
Baker threw 32 pitches, 22 for strikes, using all of his pitches.
Even after eight years in the big leagues, he wouldn’t undervalue this first spring-training start with the Mariners.
“I think it’s huge,” he said. “I haven’t been in this scenario for quite a few years where I had to come in to make a team. Overall, I’m happy with where I’m at as a whole. Now it’s just building the pitches and building the innings.”
Baker should be able to do that. He feels like he’s got no issues with his surgically repaired elbow.
“It’s that two-year mark,” he said of the anniversary of his Tommy John surgery. “You keep hearing that and hearing that, and I’m coming up on it. And now that I’ve experienced it, I see that’s there’s a reason that people talk about it. I feel really good. I feel like I’m able to let the ball fly without any adverse effects.”
Hisashi Iwakuma is sick of the splint on his middle finger. He was hoping his visit to hand specialist Dr. Donald Sheridan on Friday would yield the good news that the strained tendon in his finger was healthy enough to let him throw a baseball.
Instead, he was told he’d have to keep it on for three weeks.
“I was honestly disappointed and frustrated at the same time, but you have to respect what the doctor says,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I was ready to play catch today. It is what it is, and I’ll just have to wait three more weeks.”
The additional three weeks will make it six weeks in the splint, which is what Sheridan originally prescribed when he first diagnosed Iwakuma. But even with that mindset, Iwakuma knows he’ll likely to start the season on the disabled list.
“It is very disappointing, but you can think about it and not go anywhere,” Iwakuma said. “So you just have to move forward and come back as soon as possible and make sure I don’t have any setbacks from coming back too quick. That’s all I can think of right now, going forward.”
• Robinson Cano went 2 for 3 with an RBI in his second Cactus League game. He also made a nice play on a soft ground ball for an out.
• Justin Smoak had two hits while batting right-handed in the game. The switch-hitting first baseman struggled from that side of the plate last season. But he’s had three hits batting right-handed in two games. “That’s always good because you can build off that,” McClendon said. “There’s nothing like confidence in this game.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish