Mariners notebook: Hultzen taking it one day at a time

Feb 20, 2014, 3:13 PM | Updated: Feb 24, 2014, 4:00 pm

By Shannon Drayer

PEORIA, Ariz. – Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker threw bullpens under the watch of numerous front-office and training personnel Thursday morning as they get ready for the regular season. In a perfect world, Danny Hultzen – the second overall pick from the 2011 draft – would have been throwing alongside them. Instead, he is with them for warmups and drills and then three times a week leaves the group to go to another field to play catch with a trainer from 45 feet away.

A frustrating 2013 season in which Hultzen struggled to get and stay on the field was capped off by major shoulder surgery in early October to repair tears in his labrum, rotator cuff and shoulder capsule. The dreaded triple threat. It’s a surgery that will sideline a pitcher for at least a year with no guarantee that he’ll make it back. A tough diagnosis.

Hultzen will not factor into the Mariners’ plans this year but the fact that he is on the field now is a good sign and a welcomed sight. He has been playing catch for just over a month now and is expected to stretch out to 60 feet next week. Because there was no chance to get him pitching this season, the Mariners are taking it particularly slow with him. And while they have a rehab and throwing program mapped out through September, Hultzen himself isn’t looking beyond the day at hand.

“That’s way too far to think about,” he said with a smile before the morning workout. “I try to think about it day by day.”

It cannot be easy to see others throwing bullpens or deal with the uncertainty of coming back from a serious injury. Hultzen appears to have put those thoughts behind him, however.

“It’s tough,” he said of the mental aspect of dealing with an injury. “It’s way tougher than any of the physical stuff because there are a lot of doubts that go through your head, a lot of bad thoughts. I have kind of learned to shut those out and think positively. I don’t allow myself to let the negative thoughts get in my head.”

One way he has managed to keep the negative out is to focus not on what he can’t do right now, but what he can do.

“Without the pressures of having to pitch or compete, I want to be as physically strong as possible,” he said of his new focus. “I am doing a lot of running, core work, I’m in the weight room. The days are long and it is a lot of work, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end.”

Hultzen returned home after his surgery for a short break and then it was off to Arizona for rehab in early November. Since then his focus has been on his new job, to get healthy.

“Instead of going out there and trying to win games, trying to strike people out, my focus has shifted a whole lot into No. 1, getting as healthy as possible and along with that as strong as possible,” he said. “That’s how I am looking at it.”

Zduriencik has ‘zero expectations’ for Montero

Manager Lloyd McClendon said Thursday morning that he is looking at Jesus Montero with open eyes and that he will not close or open any doors for him. General manager Jack Zduriencik had stronger words about the player many hoped would be the right-handed power bat in the lineup for years to come, telling The Seattle Times that he has “zero expectations” for Montero.

He also said this during the offseason, but that was before Montero showed up to camp overweight. It is understandable that there would be a good amount of disappointment to learn that Montero’s focus this offseason clearly was not on coming back ready to show the promise he once did. Reporting to camp 40 pounds overweight gets you noticed for all of the wrong reasons.

The hope had been that Montero would go home to Venezuela and get to work in winter ball. He did report to the Lara team relatively early, but after 21 games his name disappeared from the stats. It turns out he was in what was called a minor car accident and required three to five stitches across his knuckle. He was expected to miss just a few weeks and return by the end of November, but according to the game logs he played in just one more game, Dec. 27. Not the work the Mariners wanted to see from him.

Notes

• The bullpen sessions for Hernandez and Walker went well. In addition to Hultzen, another pitcher who probably should have been throwing alongside them was Hisashi Iwakuma, who instead stood behind and and watched. He exited the field with Hernandez and could be heard telling him through his interpreter that he looked good in his bullpen session.

• It was a busy day for Hernandez, who learned that he would be advancing to the semifinals of the #FaceofMLB contest after beating Joey Votto by 0.04 percent of the vote. After his work on the field he filmed his Mariners commercial. No word on whether or not he was able to find time for another bike ride.

Yes. That is a pink bike.

• From the “something to watch” department: Outfield drills were a bit of an adventure Thursday morning with strong winds making popups a challenge. The outfielders were separated into two groups – one with what looked like the center fielders and the other the corners – to work on popups and plays at the wall.

The center field group was Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Julio Morban and James Jones. Interestingly enough, Michael Saunders was with the corners. It is far too early to say that he is being moved to one of the corners (although former manager Eric Wedge and others thought he was more suited for that last year) but as I said, it’s something to watch.

• Pro football Hall of Famer, former U.S. Representative and Seahawks legend Steve Largent stopped by camp Thursday morning and spent some time talking with McClendon and others. What did they talk about?

“He talked baseball and I talked football. I told him what a hell of a football player he was, he told me what a hell of a baseball player he was. We told a lot of lies,” joked McClendon, a former running back.

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