Felix, Iwakuma close to rejoining rotation

June 16th, 2017
Felix Hernandez is expected to return from Triple-A Tacoma after one more rehab start. (Jeff Halstead/Tacoma Rainiers)

ARLINGTON -- After going much of the last two months without four of their starting pitchers, the Mariners are close to regaining most of those arms, as and are wrapping up rehab assignments with Triple-A Tacoma.

is already back with the Mariners after a monthlong absence with a strained forearm. Now, Hernandez will make his third and final rehab start for Tacoma on Saturday and could rejoin the rotation as early as Thursday after being sidelined nearly two months with bursitis in his right shoulder.

Manager Scott Servais said Hernandez will throw 80-85 pitches in Saturday's 7:05 p.m. PT game against Salt Lake at Cheney Stadium.

Iwakuma is slated for 70-75 pitches on Monday in a 6:05 p.m. PT game at Tacoma vs. Salt Lake in his second rehab outing after missing five weeks with inflammation in his right shoulder. If all goes well, Servais indicated the veteran right-hander could also rejoin the Mariners next weekend.

And Drew Smyly, the left-hander who has been out since Spring Training with a strained elbow, threw a 40-pitch bullpen session prior to Friday's series opener against the Rangers and is ramping up his long road back.

"He looked really good," pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said. "I thought his intensity increased 15-20 percent from his previous bullpen. Very surprising. If I didn't know what I know about him and where he's been with his injury, I would never know he ever had anything wrong."

Stottlemyre said Smyly will throw another bullpen and then could be ready to face hitters in a live batting practice situation. Smyly will need to throw a simulated game or two and make several rehab starts, so he's likely looking at a late July or August return at the earliest.

With shortstop also close to returning from a sprained ankle and Mitch Haniger back in right field, the Mariners' injury situation finally appears to be clearing.

"Between Segura and on the pitching side Felix and 'Kuma' coming back and Smyly shortly thereafter, the light is getting a little brighter," Servais said. "We're not quite there yet, and it's important we stay with the process until we get to that point and get those guys going good.

"Just because all the sudden they walk out on the mound doesn't mean they're going to be lights-out. Paxton was great his first time out, then he stubbed his toe a little after that. I think we have to be realistic on the expectations there."

Worth noting

• Segura ran through a series of agility and running drills prior to Friday's game with assistant athletic trainer Matt Toth and is close to being game-ready, though he likely will play a game or two with Tacoma before rejoining the Mariners early next week.

• The Mariners' outfield leads the Majors in defensive runs saved at a plus-27 through 68 games, per Fangraphs. A year ago, Seattle's outfield ranked 27th in MLB with a minus-27 for the season.