PEORIA, Ariz. -- Rob Whalen's outstanding spring took a tough turn on Sunday as the 24-year-old right-hander gave up eight hits and nine runs (eight earned) in two-plus innings as the Mariners dropped a 16-3 decision to the Indians at Peoria Stadium.Whalen has been one of the club's surprising success
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Rob Whalen's outstanding spring took a tough turn on Sunday as the 24-year-old right-hander gave up eight hits and nine runs (eight earned) in two-plus innings as the Mariners dropped a 16-3 decision to the Indians at Peoria Stadium.
Whalen has been one of the club's surprising success stories, coming in with a 1.38 ERA in four outings and pushing his name into contention for the fifth spot in the rotation until Erasmo Ramirez's expected return.
But Whalen, who struck out nine in a strong five-inning start against the Rockies last week, didn't have the same command and bite on his curve against the Indians. He gave up three doubles, walked three and committed two throwing errors.
"Whalen has been so good all camp," manager Scott Servais said. "It was disappointing today, he didn't have his command. His last time out he had an awesome curveball and he didn't go to it enough today. It does happen and is part of the process. Understanding where he came from to where he's at right now, he's still had a really good camp. It's just today wasn't his day."
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Whalen came to camp as a long shot, but he pitched so well that he and Ariel Miranda are the two remaining contenders for the No. 5 spot. Assuming Felix Hernandez gets healthy enough to start the regular season in the rotation, the fifth starter won't be needed until April 11 due to three off-days in the first nine days of the schedule.
Big Juan gearing up
Juan Nicasio, the Mariners' main offseason addition via free agency, continued ramping up his velocity in a 1-2-3 fifth inning as he struck out Lonnie Chisenhall and Yonder Alonso, and retired Edwin Encarnacion on a flyout to center.
Nicasio had been throwing in the 90-91 mph range early in camp, but the veteran has been building his arm strength as planned and hit 95 on his final pitch to Alonso to retire the side.
"Juan has done a really good job all spring and you're starting to see the velocity creep up into the range he pitched at last year," Servais said. "He's a veteran guy. He knows how to get ready. No worries with him at all."
That's a good sign for the bullpen, which figures to rely on the hard-thrower as one of its primary setup men to closer Edwin Diaz, who followed with a perfect seventh inning of his own while hitting 97 mph with his fastball.
Nicasio was making his first back-to-back appearances, having retired the only batter he faced in Saturday's win over the Angels. He's allowed one run and four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk in 6 2/3 innings over seven spring appearances.
Iwakuma on the mend
Hisashi Iwakuma is progressing well as he returns from right shoulder surgery. Servais remains optimistic that the right-hander could be game ready by late May or early June. The 36-year-old is throwing long toss now and he hopes to get on the bullpen mound before camp breaks.
"Everybody is very excited about where he's at with the arm strength," Servais said. "I know Kuma feels good about it. We aren't going to rush this thing, but I feel very confident that Kuma is going to help us at some point in the season."
Iwakuma was one of the Mariners' top starters from 2012-16 before arm issues wiped out most of his 2017 season. He re-signed with club on a Minor League deal.
• Robinson Cano (left hamstring), Nelson Cruz (right quad) and Ichiro Suzuki (right calf) all took batting practice on Sunday. Servais is targeting a Wednesday return for those players to Cactus League action after the team's off-day on Tuesday.
Ichiro could get some at-bats in a Minor League game on Monday, but he won't run. He is just looking to see pitches and work on his timing since he's only played in three games since signing on March 7.
• Utility man Andrew Romine (right shoulder) swung in the cage and took ground balls, but he also will likely be held back until Wednesday.
Hernandez and James Paxton will throw in Minor League games against the Padres on the backfields at the Peoria Complex at 1 p.m. PT on Monday. Watch live on MLB.TV as Christian Bergman will get the start for Monday's Cactus League contest at 6:10 p.m. against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.