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Zunino to begin rehab; Iwakuma progresses

Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- The sick list for the Mariners continues to thin.

Plans call for catcher Mike Zunino to begin a Minor League rehab assignment Monday at Class A Advanced Modesto. It's the next step in his recovery from a strained left oblique muscle that surfaced just prior to Opening Day.

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SEATTLE -- The sick list for the Mariners continues to thin.

Plans call for catcher Mike Zunino to begin a Minor League rehab assignment Monday at Class A Advanced Modesto. It's the next step in his recovery from a strained left oblique muscle that surfaced just prior to Opening Day.

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"I'm really close," Zunino said. "I think I'm ready now. I've had a couple of days of full swings in batting practice, but they're just being really cautious."

In this case, "really cautious" means at least two or three rehab games.

"Probably catch five or six innings [in the first game]," manager Scott Servais said. "DH [the second game], and then come back and catch eight or nine innings. We'll see where we're at, at that point."

Club officials chose Modesto because the Nuts are at home for the next three days against Stockton (Athletics).

If all goes well, Zunino could return to active duty next weekend when the Mariners embark on a three-city trip.

His return should provide another power bat to a lineup that, entering Sunday, was already averaging 5.08 runs per game. Zunino had 25 homers and 64 RBIs last season while batting .251 in 124 games.

The Mariners, in Zunino's absence, are using two rookie catchers, Mike Marjama and David Freitas. Entering Sunday, they were batting a combined .186 with no homers or RBIs.

"I think they've done very well [defensively]," Servais said. "By design, we haven't played one guy a ton more than the other. One of the guys will have to go down, but whichever one goes down, it could be a fluid situation.

"You could flip it in a few weeks. We'll have to wait and see. I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves."

The Mariners got a boost Saturday when designated hitter Nelson Cruz returned from the disabled list and the club is expected to activate outfielder Ben Gamel perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

Iwakuma update

Veteran right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma showed no day-after problems following Saturday's bullpen workout and could be ready to start a rehab assignment within the next few weeks in his recovery from shoulder surgery.

"We're still very optimistic that he'll help us at some point," Servais said. "The next step is he's going to face some hitters in a live-BP situation. Maybe once or twice doing that, and then start the rehab."

Iwakuma, 37, underwent surgery on Sept. 27 after spending much of the year in a rest-and-rehab program that failed to correct the problem. He made just six starts last season before an ailing shoulder forced him to the disabled list in early May.

The Mariners retained Iwakuma, a free agent after last season, by signing him to a Minor League contract. He is 63-39 with a 3.42 ERA over the last six seasons with the Mariners after an 11-year career in Japan.

Bob Dutton is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle.

Seattle Mariners, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Zunino