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Mariners' Iwakuma poised to return; Paxton leaves early

The SportsXchange

SEATTLE -- The Mariners' rotation has held up just fine without him thus far, but Tuesday's news that right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma is about to return to the mound came as a welcome revelation.

Iwakuma, who missed spring training camp while nursing a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand, is scheduled to throw 30 pitches off the mound Wednesday before Seattle's game against the Los Angeles Angels. It would mark the first time since January that Iwakuma has thrown off a mound.

Iwakuma finished third in the AL Cy Young voting last year, when he went 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in his first full season as a starter. He was projected to be Seattle's No. 2 starter behind ace Felix Hernandez before the injury.

The Mariners are hoping to get Iwakuma into the rotation by the end of the month, and Wednesday's bullpen session could go a long way toward determining how close he is to returning.

Iwakuma and rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker (shoulder soreness) are both on the 15-day disabled list, leaving Seattle without two-fifths of its rotation. Rookie lefty Roenis Elias filled in admirably during his major-league debut last week, while veteran Chris Young has yet to make a start because of a weekend rainout.

Seattle starters have gone 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA this season. But the rotation could be looking for more part-time help after rookie left-hander James Paxton had to leave the game Tuesday in the sixth inning with what the team was describing as a strained left lat muscle.

Paxton had a string of 14 consecutive batters retired before the Angels' Kole Calhoun led off the sixth inning with a single. Paxton was then removed from the game despite throwing just 60 pitches.

"I don't think it's going to be a big deal," said Paxton, who is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday. "I'm not really in pain; just a little soreness."

The rookie left-hander is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA this season. Paxton, 25, and Walker are considered the Mariners' top two pitching prospects.

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