TEMPE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Rob Whalen was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma prior to the Mariners' 8-4 loss to the Angels on Monday, clearing the way for Ariel Miranda to likely fill Seattle's fifth starter position to open the season.Miranda is one of the five healthy starters still in camp, though
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Rob Whalen was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma prior to the Mariners' 8-4 loss to the Angels on Monday, clearing the way for Ariel Miranda to likely fill Seattle's fifth starter position to open the season.
Miranda is one of the five healthy starters still in camp, though he likely won't begin the year on the 25-man roster either, since the Mariners won't need a fifth starter until April 11 due to early off-days on the schedule.
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But with Erasmo Ramirez just starting to throw again after missing a month with a strained right lat, manager Scott Servais acknowledged that Miranda -- who went 8-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 31 games, including 29 starts last year -- has the upper hand in taking those starts when the time comes.
"Miranda has done it before," Servais said. "He's the guy with the experience. He's the guy that will probably get the first shot at coming up and filling that spot."
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Whalen walked away in midseason last July while with Triple-A Tacoma to deal with depression and anxiety issues, but opened eyes with a strong Cactus League showing until allowing nine runs (eight earned) on eight hits in a 16-3 loss Sunday vs. the Indians.
"It had nothing to do with yesterday's outing, just to be clear on that," Servais said of Whalen's departure. "It was on the docket for him to be sent out and keep him going in the right direction. It's a really good story with an outstanding Spring Training for him.
"He's certainly got something to feel good about and build on. We are going to need him. He will help us at some point this year."
Iwakuma making significant progress
Hisashi Iwakuma threw 10 pitches off the front of the mound for the first time since his October shoulder surgery and is targeted now for a full bullpen session Sunday as he works toward a possible return in the first few months of the regular season.
"I felt great," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I didn't have to worry about the shoulder in general. That's always a good sign. Better than I was expecting. I can't recall when I felt that good, probably a year ago in Spring Training."
Iwakuma hasn't pitched in a big league game since May 3 and is eager to return, but isn't allowing himself to get too caught up in that just yet.
"As a whole, I think about that a lot," he said. "But right now. I'm just worried about making good steps, one at a time."
Ichiro Suzuki, who played just three Cactus League games before straining his right calf, got 11 plate appearances in Minor League games Monday and had three hits, a walk and five strikeouts.
Nelson Cruz (right quad) and Robinson Cano (left hamstring) took batting practice again and are targeted to return Wednesday when the Mariners host the Brewers. Ichiro could also return Wednesday, though Servais said he'll be cautious with the 44-year-old and could hold him out until Thursday if he's not 100 percent ready.
First baseman Ryon Healy also got extra at-bats in the Minor League games Monday, and Servais said the 26-year-old appears on target to be fully healthy by Opening Day. Healy, who had surgery to remove a bone spur from his right hand Feb. 14, has played in two Cactus League games and gone 2-for-5 with a double.
Daniel Vogelbach, who homered Monday and has hit extremely well all spring, but Servais reiterated that Healy was acquired to be the everyday first baseman and "that's the plan if he's healthy and ready to go."
The Mariners could open the season with two first basemen since they'll only need four starting pitchers in the first 10 days, but ultimately it could be difficult to find a spot for Vogelbach on the roster if everyone remains healthy.
Following Tuesday's off-day, the Mariners resume Cactus League play Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. PT against the Brewers at Peoria Stadium, with Mike Leake getting the start in a game available on MLB.TV.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.