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Iwakuma ready to face live hitters

ARLINGTON -- All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw 55 pitches in a bullpen session Tuesday afternoon at Globe Life Park and next will face live hitters for the first time this spring Friday in a simulated game when the team is at Miami.

Iwakuma, 33, missed all of Spring Training after spraining a tendon in his right middle finger after catching it in a netting during a mound drill just prior to the start of camp. He threw his third bullpen session on Tuesday and this time included his trademark split-fingered fastball, which puts maximum pressure on his injured finger.

"I felt great today," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I was able to command all my pitches to both sides of the plate and keep the ball down. They released me from the split finger, too, and that felt great."

Iwakuma acknowledged the splitter was a big test and had been something of a concern.

"Yes a little because you have more stress when you do split your fingers and with that first joint, you do put more pressure than with other pitches," he said. "But I felt no pain and wasn't worried at all throughout the whole bullpen. So everything went great."

He's expected to do a normal game warmup and then throw about 45 pitches to hitters in the simulated game situation Friday. If all goes well, Iwakuma should then be able to go out on a Minor League rehab stint, according to manager Lloyd McClendon.

The club continues to not put any time frame on Iwakuma's process, but a return in early May is logical if he makes two or three rehab starts.

"It's been a long process, but I've been able to focus the last couple weeks," Iwakuma said. "Now that I'm throwing bullpens, until today and for another week or so I'm only allowed to cheer for the team and I can't go on the field. So I want to become part of the team soon and hopefully that's within a couple weeks."

Iwakuma was 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 33 starts last year for Seattle and finished third in the American League Cy Young voting.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. Associate reporter
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