Mariners’ right-hander is expected to pitch again Thursday in Tacoma.
Hisashi Iwakuma moved another step closer to joining the Mariners rotation with his first rehab start of his recovery from a strained lat. Iwakuma pitched for Class A Everett on Saturday night, going 32/3 innings, giving up one run on three hits with a strikeout. One of those hits was a home run. He threw 56 pitches with five ground-ball outs.
Iwakuma’s next rehab start is scheduled for Thursday with Class AAA Tacoma at Cheney Stadium. He will make at least one more after that. A pitcher has 30 days for a rehab stint.
“I would doubt seriously that it would just be two rehab starts,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “When we leave spring training with any of our starting pitchers, we expect them to go six to seven innings, 90-100 pitches the first time out. He’s not there yet. Two starts won’t get him there.”
Iwakuma was upbeat about the first time being back on the mound in a game since April 21.
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“It felt good,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “First time in a long time. I’m back to game mode again. I felt good overall. I still need to work on some timing and my mechanics. Some of my pitches I need to work on. Overall, I was up in the zone and I need to work on that as well. It was my first start and I threw a lot of strikes and in that way I’m satisfied.”
At 50 pitches, Iwakuma felt no fatigue in his body or arm.
“I could have gone a couple more innings if I needed to,” he said.
The reports to McClendon were positive.
“We were looking for four, but 32/3 is fine,” he said. “We’ll see how he feels the next couple days and then get him back out there.”
But it isn’t just how a pitcher feels during a rehab start that is important. It’s how he feels after the adrenaline has worn off and the effects of the outing react to his body. Iwakuma said he felt tightness in his arm and body during the day on Sunday before working out pregame.
“But it’s good tightness,” he said.
The key with his return will be velocity and command. McClendon and the Mariners won’t rush him back until his velocity gets back to normal and he’s commanding his pitches.
Iwakuma’s fastball touched 90 miles per hour in the start, but it sat around 87-88 and some of his two-seamers were around 85 mph.
The lower velocity is a sign he still needs to build arm strength and stamina and the need for more rehab outings.
“I think moving forward it’s really important,” McClendon said. “Fastball velocity makes your secondary stuff better. If you can’t speed guys up with the fastball then you aren’t going to get them off stride with your breaking stuff.”
• The Astros hit two more homers against the Mariners on Sunday, giving them 27 long balls in 13 games against Seattle pitchers this season. Houston leads MLB with 103 homers .
• Logan Morrison hit the 100th double of his career in the fifth inning.
• J.A. Happ took the loss in his third straight start and is winless in his last eight starts. It was his first loss at Safeco Field since April 17 — his first start at Safeco this season.