After missing the first five weeks of spring training with a strained middle finger on his throwing hand, Mariners No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma was cleared to begin his throwing program Tuesday. The rehab plan is for Iwakuma to begin finger stretching/strength exercises this week, start throwing tennis balls Friday, continue through the weekend, then progress to throwing baseballs Monday.
It’s been a tedious recovery process for Iwakuma since he fell backward off the mound and got his hand caught in netting during a workout in Los Angeles a few weeks before the start of spring training. The injury ensured Iwakuma wouldn’t be ready by opening day.
“To be honest, it’s been a very, very long five weeks, I can tell you that,” Iwakuma said via translator Antony Suzuki.
The initial belief was that Iwakuma might miss a few starts and be ready by mid-April. Tuesday manager Lloyd McClendon was evasive when asked when last year’s Cy Young contender might return.
Iwakuma likely will start the season on the 15-day disabled list.
“I just need to focus on who I’ve got here and what I’ve got available and what I’m dealing with,” McClendon told reporters. “You get caught up in that and you get disappointed. So I don’t even think about that.”
In 2013, Iwakuma started 33 games and went 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 219.2 innings. He made his first American League All-Star team and posted a 1.006 WHIP, best in Mariners’ history. Like McClendon, Iwakuma doesn’t know exactly when he’ll be ready,
“It’s hard to say being in my situation right now,” Iwakuma said. “I want to come back soon, but I don’t want to push it and get any more setbacks. It’s a long season. I look forward to finishing strong.”
With Taijuan Walker (bursitis in throwing shoulder) expected to begin the first few weeks on the DL, McClendon is still searching for candidates to fill four spots in the rotation. Left-handed pitcher James Paxton, who went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts last season, likely has a spot clinched.
Right-handed pitcher Scott Baker has been adequate (3.38 ERA) in eight innings over three spring training starts. Roenis Elias, a 25-year-old left-hander from Cuba, has impressed this spring (1.46 ERA in 12.1 innings). Last year, Elias was an All-Star with the Jackson Generals of the Double-A Southern League.
Lefty Randy Wolf, 37, gets one of his final auditions in a start Tuesday against the Padres in Peoria (7:05 p.m. PT, Root Sports).