By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Hisashi Iwakuma got the news he had hoped he would get when he visited the hand specialist Tuesday morning.
“The doctor said it was good. It looks a lot better now after five weeks. He said I can do actual rehab on the finger,” Iwakuma told the assembled media in the Mariners’ clubhouse.
Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma hasn’t been able to grip a baseball for nearly two months because of a strained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand. (AP)
While Iwakuma has been able to do strength and conditioning exercises and throw “shadow bullpens” with the splint on, what he hasn’t been able to do is grip a baseball for almost the last eight weeks. He will have to build up to the grip before he is allowed to throw with any kind of intensity.
“The finger is very stiff right now but the good thing is I am pain free,” he said.
Trainer Rick Griffin explained it like this: “It’s like if you have a cast on your ankle you don’t go from getting the cast off to running full sprints. We have done everything else except for those things except for the range-of-motion and (hand)-strength work, and that is the first thing we will have to concentrate on.”
The rehab process for the tendon in Iwakuma’s middle finger will be similar to the rehab that players who undergo hamate-bone surgery must go through. There will be hand exercises, exercises that are done in water for resistance and plenty of squeezing putty to strengthen the hand. According to Griffin, it should not take long to build up but there is a process Iwakuma must go through, and that begins Tuesday.
If all goes well, Iwakuma will be allowed to throw a tennis ball on Friday and progress to light catch with a baseball on Monday. The Mariners are putting no timetable on a return but I would expect to see him on a normal spring schedule once the hand is strong. The throwing program will graduate to bullpen sessions, and after three or four of them he would most likely throw a simulated game of just a couple of innings. From there he would be close to getting into some games – possibly in extended spring training – before being sent on a rehab assignment with one of the minor-league teams.
Iwakuma said it shouldn’t take long – a game or two – for him to get the feel for his pitches. Arm strength and building the pitch count will take a bit longer and that will dictate when he returns to the big-league team. Iwakuma said he does not a have a target date as of yet. What is first and foremost in his mind is getting back to stay back.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “I look forward to finishing strong. That’s all I have in mind right now.”
Abraham Almonte, 8
Kyle Seager, 5
Logan Morrison, DH
Justin Smoak, 3
Corey Hart, 9
Dustin Ackley, 7
Nick Franklin, 6
Mike Zunino, 2
Brad Miller, 4
It’s not a typo; Brad Miller is playing second base and before you read too much into what that means for the battle at short, stop. Shortstop! Haha! Moving on. Robinson Cano is out until Wednesday, so this is a way to get Miller some more at-bats. Seriously, I am sorry about the shortstop comment. Too much sun on the off day.
Corey Hart is back out there in right, where we have yet to see him challenged at all. Would be nice to see a couple of knocks in that direction Tuesday night to see how much he can move out there.
One more lineup note: I think the assumption coming into the spring was that Hart would hit cleanup and someone else – most likely Justin Smoak – would hit fifth. Well, that has yet to happen. Hart has hit cleanup six times but never in a game with Smoak. In that situation, like Tuesday night, it has always been Smoak at four, Hart at five.
We have the probables for the next week and then some but keep in mind that probables in this camp have been very subject to change.
On Wednesday Blake Beavan is scheduled to get the start against the Brewers and on Thursday Erasmo Ramirez will start at Chicago (NL). That is Felix Hernandez’s day to start and start he will, but in a minor-league game that has yet to be determined. James Paxton goes against the Padres on Friday. Split-squad Saturday has Scott Baker and Roenis Elias starting with some uncertainty as to who starts which game. Monday it is back to Beavan.
• RHP Taijuan Walker is getting closer to possible game action. He will throw a 50-pitch bullpen on Wednesday and then will throw either a live BP session or a simulated game.
• The Mariners made one more roster move Tuesday, re-assigning OF Cole Gillespie to minor-league camp. The roster is now at 39, which includes 29 roster players and 10 non-roster players.