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Smyly nearing first bullpen session in rehab

Mariners lefty recovering from strained elbow flexor muscle
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- The rehab process for a strained elbow flexor muscle involves a lot of baby steps and Mariners lefty Drew Smyly took another of those on Thursday as he got up on the front half of the bullpen mound at Safeco Field and threw some pitches for the first time since the end of Spring Training.

Smyly, who is on the 60-day disabled list and isn't expected back until July, is scheduled to throw his first real bullpen session on Saturday as he continues ramping up his rehab program.

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SEATTLE -- The rehab process for a strained elbow flexor muscle involves a lot of baby steps and Mariners lefty Drew Smyly took another of those on Thursday as he got up on the front half of the bullpen mound at Safeco Field and threw some pitches for the first time since the end of Spring Training.

Smyly, who is on the 60-day disabled list and isn't expected back until July, is scheduled to throw his first real bullpen session on Saturday as he continues ramping up his rehab program.

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"It's the same normal throwing program, just the next step," Smyly said. "I got halfway up the mound, so I wouldn't call it a bullpen. Just working downhill. It felt good. One day after the next, just keep moving forward."

With James Paxton back in the rotation, Felix Hernandez possibly back next week and Hisashi Iwakuma's return several weeks down the road, Smyly figures to be the last of the injured starters to return.

"That's a great sign," manager Scott Servais said of his light bullpen workout. "I know he's been working his tail off and is anxious to get going. Once you get on the mound and get a bullpen under you, hopefully you can get a little more defined in what the program will be and start mapping out bullpens and live BPs and rehabs and all that other stuff."

Iwakuma threw an extensive 50-pitch bullpen session on Thursday as he continued ramping up from the sore shoulder that has sidelined him since May 3. He'll throw a two-inning simulated game situation on Sunday and could head out on a rehab assignment after that if all goes well.

Hernandez is scheduled to make his second rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday and could potentially rejoin the rotation in Texas on the following weekend.

Cruz still sidelined by sore calf

Designated hitter Nelson Cruz sat out his second straight game on Thursday due to tightness in his right calf. Cruz said an MRI on Wednesday showed a slight tear, but he said he can walk without pain and hopes to be back in the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Blue Jays.

"It first happened in Colorado [last week] and then I didn't feel it for a few days," Cruz said. "I have issues when I go out and do agility and all the stretching. I didn't stretch on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, then on Tuesday I figured it would be a good day to go out and be with teammates so I don't look like that guy, and I felt it again."

So Cruz will likely stay away from stretching, but hopes to stay in the lineup. And that would be welcome for the Mariners as he entered Thursday tied for the American League lead with 46 RBIs and is batting .299 with 14 home runs in 57 games.

Video: TB@SEA: Cruz goes deep for a two-run dinger

Worth noting

• Outfielder Mitch Haniger will play at designated hitter on Thursday for Triple-A Tacoma and then start in right field on Friday in his third and fourth rehab games, and then be re-evaluated as he returns from a six-week absence with a strained right oblique. Servais said it's possible Haniger could rejoin the Mariners by the weekend if all goes well.

• When Mike Zunino hit his game-winning two-run homer in Wednesday's 6-5 win over the Twins, he became the fifth Seattle catcher with a walk-off home run. The others were Donnie Scott (1985), Scott Bradley ('88), Tom Lampkin ('99) and Chris Iannetta ('16).

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

Seattle Mariners, Nelson Cruz, Drew Smyly