Mariners' pitchers recovering from numerous injuries

PEORIA, Ariz. — Day by day, the Seattle Mariners' pitching staff is working to become whole once again.

After a panic-filled first few weeks of spring training featuring injuries to Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners can now exhale in relief as both are slowly progressing toward being healthy. Meanwhile hard-throwing reliever Stephen Pryor is recovering faster than expected — a pleasant surprise for the Mariners.

None of the three is likely to be ready for opening day. But the Mariners can at least envision them being in uniform by May.

On Friday, Iwakuma threw a ball for the first time since being shut down with a tendon strain in the middle finger of his throwing hand. But the all-star right-hander wasn't tossing a baseball, instead throwing a tennis ball against the wall.

"I threw about 40 to 45 times with a tennis ball inside the weight room," Iwakuma said through translator Anthony Suzuki. "I felt good, no pain, better range of motion. So far, so good."

Iwakuma started at 30 feet and slowly worked back in 5-foot increments. He threw a tennis ball on Saturday. If there are no issues with the finger, he will throw a baseball on Monday. It's a slow, but necessary process.

"I'm happy he's back out and starting to be active again," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "But this is going to take a little while. It's not going to happen overnight. We just need to get him moving forward."

The Mariners need Iwakuma to return healthy. He was their best pitcher last season, posting a 14-6 record with a 2.66 ERA.

Walker has been moving forward rapidly since returning from a seven-day period of no throwing because shoulder bursitis.

He's thrown three bullpen sessions and the Mariners saw enough in them to schedule him to pitch in a minor league game on Saturday. Walker will throw around 20-30 pitches and hopefully two innings, according to McClendon.

Walker wasn't the only recovering pitcher to throw in that minor-league game. Reliever Stephen Pryor also made his first game appearance of the spring. Pryor is recovering from surgery to repair latissmus dorsi. He's thrown five bullpens and three live batting practice sessions, slowly building his way back from surgery.

"I feel good," Pryor said a few days ago. "No problems. It's starting to feel normal."

Also on Friday, the Mariners added a quality-control coach position to the major-league coaching staff, promoting Chris Prieto to the job.

Prieto managed the Pulaski Mariners (Rookie League) last season and was slated to manage Class A Clinton this season.

What will Prieto do?

"He will coordinate our statistical analysis department," McClendon said. "He will be the liaison between that department and our coaching staff, making sure our scouting reports are right on and have the things that we want and the things that we need and eliminate the things that we don't need. He will be in charge of defense and how we position. He'll do in-depth scouting on how we position players as we move forward during the season."

Prieto will also throw some batting practice, hit ground balls and travel with the team. He will be in uniform for pregame only.

"I think it's a good idea," McClendon said of the position. "I think it's something most clubs are moving toward to give us that eye in the sky so to speak. It's a little different perspective. It gives the ability to not only scout other teams, but also scout ourselves. If there's something we need to do different or if there is a weakness we need to shore up."

McClendon and general manager Jack Zduriencik discussed this position in the offseason, but didn't have time to do the interviews and make the hire till now.

"We interviewed several people and I was really excited about Chris," McClendon said. "He's a fine young man. And I think he's going to fit in nicely with the mix on this coaching staff."

Before being hired by the Mariners, Prieto worked two seasons as a coach in the Padres organization with the Eugene Emeralds. He played in 13 minor-league seasons.

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