TOKYO -- For a guy with a sore back, a 12-hour flight to Japan isn’t necessarily the best tonic. But new closer Hunter Strickland said Saturday he feels fully recovered from his recent injury issues and should be good to go when the Mariners open their regular season on Wednesday against the A’s in the Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome.
Strickland hasn’t pitched in a Cactus League game since March 3 after his back locked up the following day. But he threw well in an intrasquad contest on Wednesday and is expected to pitch an inning in Sunday’s exhibition game against the Yomiuri Giants and then be good for Opening Day.
“I’m 100 percent and ready to go,” Strickland said following Saturday’s workout at the Tokyo Dome. “I was a little frustrated. You never want to be down, but we tried to play it smart, and obviously, the season means a lot more than a couple games this past spring.”
Strickland’s presence is big for a rebuilt bullpen. He signed with Seattle because of the opportunity to close out games for a staff that had traded away All-Star Edwin Diaz as well as setup men Alex Colome and Juan Nicasio. The 30-year-old had 13 saves and a 2.01 ERA in his first 33 outings for the Giants last year, but then broke his hand after blowing a save on June 18.
After returning in August, Strickland posted a 6.59 ERA and just one more save over his final 15 appearances. The Mariners feel he’s back on target now, and Strickland is ready to back that up.
“I’m ready,” Strickland said. “We’ve got a good squad here, and to be able to play in front of these crowds in Japan, I think everybody is excited about it.”
Leake, Felix to start exhibitions
Right-hander Mike Leake will get about five innings of work on Sunday, and Felix Hernandez will follow with the same plan on Monday in the two exhibition games against the Yomiuri Giants. Neither game will be broadcast back to the United States.
With Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi set to start the two regular-season games against the A’s on Wednesday and Thursday, that leaves veteran lefty Wade LeBlanc as the odd man out for now.
LeBlanc threw a bullpen session on Saturday and will do the same again early next week, then be available in long relief if needed in the Opening Series.
Final roster moves coming
The Mariners brought 30 players to Japan, but only 28 will be allowed on the final roster turned into the Commissioner’s Office prior to Wednesday’s opener.
The club brought three catchers to Tokyo, but only two will be kept on the final cutdown, with non-roster invitee Jose Lobaton pushing returner David Freitas for the backup job behind new starter Omar Narvaez.
Veteran lefty Tommy Milone was also brought on the trip to provide some pitching depth, if necessary, in the exhibition games, but he’ll begin the season in Triple-A Tacoma barring an injury to one of the five starters.