Mariners will likely have to turn to Ariel Miranda or Rob Whalen as a fifth starter on April 11, as Ramirez is still recovering from a mid-February lat strain.
With the Mariners now less than a week from Opening Day, one thing has become clear — Erasmo Ramirez won’t be ready when the team needs a fifth starter for the first time on April 11.
Manager Scott Servais had held on to the hope for much of spring training that the right-hander would recover well enough from a lat strain to handle the role as the the fifth starter when Seattle will first need it (three early days off means Seattle won’t need a fifth starter until two weeks into the season).
But Friday, Servais said that won’t happen.
April 11, he said, “was the original goal. We were maybe hoping. But it won’t be by the 11th. Maybe the next turn or the turn after that in that spot is kind of what we’d be looking for (now).’’
The good news is Ramirez took his most significant step toward returning since being diagnosed with the injury in mid-February on Friday when he threw 25 pitches in a bullpen session, all fastballs.
“The ball was coming out clean today,” said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.. “He’s been ready for this for a little bit and from a health and a training standpoint and a coach standpoint we wanted to make sure that thing had enough time to heal but the ball was coming out nice. Real nice.”
Stottlemyre said Ramirez would add breaking pitches to his next bullpen session, though it’s unclear when that will be.
“We’re not going to lean on him and push to a risk standpoint but we need to move forward,” Stottlemyre said.
But they won’t be able to move forward enough for Ramirez to make what would have been his first scheduled start.
That likely means either lefty Ariel Miranda or righty Rob Whalen making the start on April 11 at Kansas City. The next time the Mariners would appear to need a fifth starter would be April 17 against Houston.
While Friday’s bullpen was encouraging, Servais said Ramirez will need a few more weeks to get ready.
“He’ll have a full spring training,’’ Servais said of Ramirez, who was re-acquired by Seattle in a trade with Tampa Bay for Steve Cishek last July 28. “And some of it will start down here once the minor league affiliates get going and then we’ll start putting him in good weather spots and start building up his innings from there.’’
*** Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Ichiro Suzuki were all staying behind in Peoria on Friday to get at-bats in minor league games instead of playing in the Major League game in Glendale against the White Sox. “They are going to be on the minor league side today getting a boatload of at-bats,’’ Servais said. “Hopeful to get them all in there (Saturday night against the Cubs). We’ll see.’’
*** Shortstop Jean Segura, out since Saturday with a sprained thumb, was scheduled to take batting practice on Friday and Servais said if all goes well he will also return to the lineup on Saturday.
*** Servais said Hisashi Iwakuma recovered well from throwing off the bullpen mound Thursday as he continues to progress from shoulder surgery. Servais said the hope is he will throw a full bullpen before the team breaks camp — the final game is Tuesday — though an exact ETA for when he could pitch in a game remains unclear.
*** The Mariners on Friday also re-assigned pitcher Christian Bergman to the minor league camp and released infielder Gordon Beckham. Beckham hit .340 this spring for the Mariners but was not going to make the Opening Day roster. He had an opt-out of his contract on March 24 if he was not going to make the roster. The moves leave Seattle with 36 players in its Major League camp. The team needs to get to 25 by Opening Day on Thursday.