Posted on September 9, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Seattle Mariners are scratching and clawing every day to stay relevant in the American League wild-card race. Finally, help appears to be on the way just in the nick of time. Injured starters James Paxton and Felix Hernandez both threw a simulated game on Friday. Afterward, Mariners manager Scott Servais said he expects to have both pitchers back in the rotation sometime next week when the Mariners have road series against both the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.
“I realized how much I missed them. That’s the first thing I thought,” said Servais when asked to evaluate the simulated game. “Very encouraging, positive signs, and both guys look on track to get in the rotation next week.”
Paxton has been out for nearly a month with a strained pectoral muscle. He also missed most of May earlier this year due to a forearm strain. However, when he’s been healthy, Paxton has been Seattle’s best pitcher this season. In 20 starts, Paxton is 12-3 with a 2.78 ERA. If healthy, Paxton will be a huge addition to the Mariners for the final weeks of the season, and the lefty says he’s ready to go.
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“I felt good,” Paxton told reporters after his simulated game Friday. “No issues with the (pectoral muscle). Rhythm felt pretty good. I dialed some pitches in there towards the end and threw some good cutters. I got my curveball over toward the end, which was good to feel and see. Overall, it was a good day.”
Hernandez, meanwhile, has been on the DL since early August because of shoulder and bicep issues. He also missed nearly two months of action earlier this year with should trouble. When healthy, he’s been far from at his best. In 13 starts this year, Hernandez is 5-4 with a 4.28 ERA. However, he’s been Seattle’s ace for a long time and having him return could provide the Mariners with an emotional boost down the stretch.
“We’re fighting for one spot in the Wild Card, so I’m just trying to help this team to win,” says Hernandez. “If I can do a little something to help, that will be good.”
The caveat of Paxton and Hernandez returning at this point in the season is that neither may be able to go deep into games. Making minor league rehab starts is no longer an option. Also, with the Mariners in a rush to get their two aces back, they don’t have time to stetch them out. Servais said both pitchers could be limited to 50 or 60 pitches in their first time out. But at this point, the Mariners will glady take it.
“It’s great to see them out there, and hopefully they continue moving in the right direction and we can fire them in there,” Servais said. “It doesn’t mean they’ll go out and throw three, four, five scoreless innings. There’ll be a little break-in period, but their adrenaline will get going, and that always helps.”
Heading into Saturday, the Mariners are four games behind the Twins for the second wild-card spot. They also have to jump over the Angels, Rangers, and Orioles to get there. Time is running out and the odds are stacked against them. But the Mariners aren’t giving up the fight, especially with Paxton and Hernandez coming back to give them a lifeline.
“We need to get hot, but this team is capable,” says Paxton. “It’s definitely a steep climb, but we’re going to give it all we’ve got and see where we end up.”