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King Felix 'outstanding' in latest bullpen session

Righty targeting return by Opening Day; competition for utility spot remains tight; Segura returns with 3-for-3 day
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- While James Paxton remains lined up to start Opening Day for the Mariners, Felix Hernandez is still holding out hope of recovering from a bruised right forearm in time to pitch the first game of the season in less than two weeks.

The long-time Mariners standout took a positive step in that direction Friday with a strong 38-pitch bullpen session, his second time pitching off a mound since taking a line drive off his arm in his Cactus League debut on Feb. 26.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- While James Paxton remains lined up to start Opening Day for the Mariners, Felix Hernandez is still holding out hope of recovering from a bruised right forearm in time to pitch the first game of the season in less than two weeks.

The long-time Mariners standout took a positive step in that direction Friday with a strong 38-pitch bullpen session, his second time pitching off a mound since taking a line drive off his arm in his Cactus League debut on Feb. 26.

"I'm good. Thumbs up," Hernandez told reporters as he ambled off the mound, before shouting "I'm back!" to a group of Minor League players who'd been watching off to the side.

Video: SEA@CHC: Felix exits after being hit by comebacker

Hernandez is scheduled now to throw 2-3 innings in a Minor League game Monday at 1 p.m. PT against the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex, which would give him time to make one more Cactus League start before Opening Day on March 29 against the Indians.

The timeline is tight, and manager Scott Servais said the 31-year-old will need to be ready to throw 70 or more pitches before being considered for a regular-season game, but nobody is ruling out the possibility that Hernandez could be ready for the opener.

"Oh man, I was excited," pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said, after watching Hernandez's bullpen outing. "He had life on everything and was pain free. I told him at the end he needed to assimilate a hitter and he turned the dial up a little bit. Outstanding. I'm convinced he's ready to go into a game. He turned it up. That was kind of the ending of the rehab stuff, and now getting out and facing hitters, he'll turn it up again."

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Stottlemyre said he doesn't like to get too far ahead in planning and wants to be cautious about ramping the veteran back up too quickly, but added: "Today was a step in a great direction for him and some of the things we've been working on mechanically with his body. His effort level was excellent."

Roster battles
The competition for the utility position continues to be heated, as Gordon Beckham has been one of the Mariners' top hitters all spring and Taylor Motter has been red hot the last few games, as well. Veteran Andrew Romine remains the favorite, but he's been sidelined by a shoulder injury since Wednesday and likely won't return until mid-week.

"It's a good group," Servais said. "It's nice to have depth there. It's been a good competition. I'm comfortable with any of the guys."

Video: SEA@OAK: Motter crushes a grand slam to left field

Due to injuries, Beckham, Motter and Romine have spent most of camp playing in the infield, but Servais acknowledged the ability to play some outfield will also play a "little bit" of a factor. Romine has started 57 games in the outfield in his eight-year MLB career, including 24 last year for the Tigers.

Motter has started 20 times in the outfield in two years, including 14 last year for Seattle, while Beckham has been strictly an infielder in his eight years in the big leagues.

Injury updates
• Shortstop Jean Segura was cleared to play after missing one game with a tight right hamstring and singled in all three at-bats in Friday's game against the Rangers, putting his average at .400 (12-for-30) for the spring.

Ichiro Suzuki's tight right calf muscle is feeling better, and after working out on Friday, he could be back in game action by Sunday or Monday.

• The news was also positive on first baseman Ryon Healy, who took live batting practice for the first time since his hand surgery in February and could be cleared for his first game on Saturday.

• Left-hander Marco Gonzales, hit in the right hand by a line drive in his last start, came out of Thursday's bullpen session fine and will start Saturday's game against the Angels as scheduled.

• Servais said Robinson Cano (left hamstring) and Nelson Cruz (right quad) are both likely to return to action early next week. Romine (right shoulder) is likely aiming for a Wednesday return.

Up next
The Mariners have their final split-squad day of the spring on Saturday, with Gonzales getting the start and hoping to get into the six-inning range in a 1:10 p.m. PT contest at Peoria, while Casey Lawrence makes his first Cactus League start in a 1:05 p.m. game against the A's in Mesa. Tune in to MLB.TV and Gameday Audio.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Gordon Beckham, Felix Hernandez, Taylor Motter, Andrew Romine