After missing almost two full seasons with major shoulder problems, left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen is finally feeling normal again.
The Mariners are doing their best to temper expectations for left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen going into the 2015 season. They made it clear he won’t break camp on the big-league roster. Nor do they know how many innings he can throw.
Regardless, Hultzen’s first bullpen of spring training was the latest reminder that he is apparently past the left shoulder issues that wiped out almost all of his past two seasons.
After throwing Sunday, a happy Hultzen told The News Tribune (Tacoma) that his left shoulder feels “completely normal.” A former No. 2 overall in the 2011 MLB draft, Hultzen had major left shoulder surgery Oct. 1 2013. After an arduous rehab process — a year ago in spring, he struggled to play catch from 60 feet — he made gains in the Instructional League with a 25-pitch outing.
“I feel like I’m back,” he said. “I have no idea what a game will be like. I haven’t been in a full-game situation in a long time.
“But as far as how my arm feels, and being able to let it go, I’m definitely back to where I was before.”
Those hoping Hultzen can break into the rotation right away shouldn’t hold their breaths. He threw 35.2 innings before getting hurt in 2013 and didn’t pitch in the minor leagues last season. He also recently changed his motion so that he steps more toward the plate rather than the side-arm, cross-body delivery he experimented with to ease his shoulder pain. He used the straight-on delivery in college.
“The stepping-straight thing, it’s not a huge change,” Hultzen said. “But I think it’s going to help out a lot.”
There doesn’t appear to be an immediate opening at the back of Seattle’s rotation. Right-hander Taijuan Walker and left-hander Roenis Elias are set to compete for the No. 5 spot, according to Greg Johns of MLB.com. Manager Lloyd McClendon said during the offseason that newcomer J.A. Happ (11-11, 4.22 ERA), acquired from the Blue Jays in exchange for RF Michael Saunders, won’t pitch in the bullpen. At the top of the rotation are RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma and LHP James Paxton.
That means Hultzen, 25, will likely start the year in Triple-A Tacoma, where his 2013 season ended. In three years in the minor leagues, he is 15-8 with a 2.66 ERA in 38 starts.
“We need to take it slow with him, obviously,” McClendon said. “I don’t put any limitations on any player, but we’re probably building for 2016, more than anything, with him.”
Paxton falls, hurt forearms
In what he admitted wasn’t his proudest athletic feat, Paxton had a foot catch on artificial f turf and fell during an agility drill at the spring training complex in mid-February.
The result: Paxton bruised/strained both forearms.
He threw the day after the accident. After experiencing soreness, he underwent X-rays and an MRI that came back negative.
As a precaution, the Mariners are holding him out of workouts and throwing for a few days. It isn’t considered serious.
“It’s just one of those crazy things,” he said. “I can’t explain it. It’s an un-athletic moment for me.”