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Felix ramps up throwing on 'very positive day'

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Though there's no firm timetable yet on when he'll return to the mound, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez continued ramping up his throwing on Thursday in what pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. called "a very positive day."

Hernandez has been sidelined since taking a line drive off his right arm in his Cactus League debut on Feb. 26, and he has now missed two spring starts. With three weeks until Opening Day, he'll need to get on the mound soon to be ready for the start of the season.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Though there's no firm timetable yet on when he'll return to the mound, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez continued ramping up his throwing on Thursday in what pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. called "a very positive day."

Hernandez has been sidelined since taking a line drive off his right arm in his Cactus League debut on Feb. 26, and he has now missed two spring starts. With three weeks until Opening Day, he'll need to get on the mound soon to be ready for the start of the season.

Hernandez has played catch the past three days, his first activity since the swelling went down on his bruised forearm, and he cranked out 40 pitches -- up from 25 on Wednesday -- in a longer and more aggressive flat-ground session.

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"The ball was coming out nice, and he was freer and easier today," Stottlemyre said. "It was a lot better. Now, we can move forward with more intensity and distance, and then get to a bullpen [session]."

Once Hernandez gets on a mound in the bullpen, manager Scott Servais said the right-hander will advance quickly back to game action, though he'll be limited to about 40 pitches in his first outing.

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

"We need to get him stretched out to hopefully 150-175 feet, where he's actually jumping on it and got some carry to the ball and not just moving his arm," Servais said. "He's moving in the right direction and again, it's day to day. You don't know how quick it's going to come."

Armstrong remains with Mariners
Right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma on Thursday, a day after being designated for assignment to open a roster spot for Ichiro Suzuki.

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Armstrong, 27, will remain in the Mariners' Major League camp, which is now back to 61 players. Armstrong, who was acquired from the Indians in a December trade, has allowed one run four hits in 4 2/3 innings this spring, striking out six.

"I thought he made some good strides on things [bullpen coach] Brian DeLunas and Mel were working on with him mechanically," Servais said. "He'll be with us, I'm sure. At some point this season, he will be helping us out in Seattle. We were just managing the roster, and I'm glad he's back with us."

Heredia hits the field
Guillermo Heredia started Thursday's 4-0 loss to the Giants in left field, a welcome development for the Mariners as the 27-year-old Cuban is ahead of schedule in his return from October surgery on his right shoulder.

Heredia had been limited to designated-hitter duties in his first three games back as the club looked to protect his non-throwing shoulder. He adds some needed depth to a club missing starting corner outfielders Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel.

"It's a good sign," Servais said. "We'd prefer him not diving for any low sinking line drives, but it's important to get him out there and get his at-bats going. Reports the last time the doctor looked at him were very good. We still want to be a little cautious, but I think he's smart enough to realize when to pull back here in Spring Training. It's important to get his at-bats and get in the flow of playing regularly."

Injury updates
• Reliever Tony Zych has yet to pitch this spring, and the 27-year-old right-hander won't be ready by the start of the season as he continues dealing with shoulder problems that flared up early in camp.

Zych missed most of 2016 with a shoulder issue, and he spent the last six weeks of the '17 season on the disabled list with an elbow injury. The Mariners tried to bring him along slowly at the start of camp, but he's been shut down the past 10 days..

"He's seeing a couple different doctors, trying to come up with a plan of action and see where it heads," Servais said. "He's got discomfort in his shoulder. That's about all I've got on it. I don't have a time he's going to start throwing again or any of that. I don't know."

• Haniger continues to take batting practice, and the right fielder will advance to live pitching on Saturday for the first time since his sore right hand was cleared by doctors last weekend. Haniger could see game action by Saturday or Sunday, according to Servais.

• Veteran outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who has been sidelined the past week by a sore hamstring, should return by early next week.

Up next
Listen live as James Paxton, roughed up in his last start against Texas, returns to action for his third Cactus League outing on Friday against the Giants in a 12:05 p.m. PT game in Scottsdale, Ariz. The big lefty is slated for three or four innings, with Andrew Moore among the scheduled relievers.

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

Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez