KANSAS CITY -- Mariners left fielder Ben Gamel is on track to be the first of four injured position starters to return from the disabled list as manager Scott Servais said the 25-year-old is expected to join the club on Friday when it opens a seven-game homestand at Safeco Field.Gamel,
KANSAS CITY -- Mariners left fielder Ben Gamel is on track to be the first of four injured position starters to return from the disabled list as manager Scott Servais said the 25-year-old is expected to join the club on Friday when it opens a seven-game homestand at Safeco Field.
Gamel, sidelined the past five weeks by a sprained right oblique muscle, has played five rehab games with Class A Advanced Modesto, and he was joining Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday as the Rainiers moved to a warmer-weather series at Fresno.
Catcher Mike Zunino and designated hitter Nelson Cruz are also close to returning, but they are "a tick behind" Gamel in the recovery process. Zunino has been sidelined by a strained right oblique for nearly two weeks and Cruz has been down for 10 days with a sprained right ankle.
Both Cruz and Zunino are progressing well, Servais said, with Cruz hitting off a tee and doing some cage work on Tuesday, while Zunino played catch and hit off the tee as well. Zunino likely will be targeted for a Minor League rehab game or two, while Cruz could just join the Mariners once he's cleared by the medical staff.
First baseman Ryon Healy, who injured his right ankle during a postgame workout on Saturday at Target Field, saw Mariners team doctor Ed Khalfayan on Monday and was diagnosed with a Grade 2 (moderate) sprain.
"It went better than expected, and he is out of his walking boot and walking fine now," Servais said. "He hasn't done any baseball activity and is on the DL obviously, but he's moving along nicely."
The Mariners will need to make some roster moves when the injured players return. But they're currently carrying nine pitchers in the bullpen, which means right-hander Chasen Bradford -- who was brought up on Monday -- or another reliever is the likely candidate to be optioned back to Tacoma when Gamel returns.
The club could then carry five outfielders -- Mitch Haniger, Dee Gordon, Guillermo Heredia, Ichiro Suzuki and Gamel -- while Healy is sidelined since his absence leaves Daniel Vogelbach as the lone first baseman for now and opens up one bench spot.
Bradford, claimed off waivers from the Mets in January, made a good first impression with his three scoreless innings, as he allowed no hits and one walk in Monday's 10-0 loss to the Royals.
"He threw the ball pretty well," Servais said. "I thought he had a pretty good Spring Training overall. I really like how he's wired. He's very well prepared, very serious. The majority of his life he's pitched in Las Vegas, which is not an easy place to pitch.
"Growing up there and then he pitched a few years there with the Mets and somehow survived the [Pacific Coast League]. I think he's going to help us a number of way this year."
• Erasmo Ramirez is expected to make his second rehab start on Thursday for Tacoma. The right-hander threw three innings for Modesto on Friday as he returns from a strained right lat.
• The Mariners' four-man rotation will continue pitching in order until Ariel Miranda's expected arrival as a fifth starter next Tuesday vs. the Astros. That means Mike Leake will open the homestand against the A's on Friday, followed by Marco Gonzales on Saturday and Felix Hernandez on Sunday.
• When utility man Taylor Motter threw an inning of relief in Monday's loss, he became the eighth Mariners position player to pitch in a game in franchise history. The others are Carlos Ruiz (2017), Mike Freeman ('17), Luis Sardinas ('16), Jesus Sucre (twice in '15), Jamie Burke ('08), John Mabry ('00) and Manny Castillo ('83).
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB