By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Hisashi Iwakuma admitted that he was disappointed and frustrated with the news that he would have to keep the middle finger of his right hand in a splint for another three weeks. He went into the appointment thinking he would be cleared to start throwing again.
"My finger feels a lot better now," he told a group of media with the assistance of interpreter Antony Suzuki in the Mariners clubhouse Saturday morning. "But you have to respect what the doctor says. I was ready to play catch from today. It is what it is so I just have to wait three weeks."
The prognosis eliminates any chance that Iwakuma will be ready at the start of the season. Lloyd McClendon said that he would like to see him throw around 20 innings before returning. Pitching coach Rick Waits could be seen at Iwakuma's locker before the chat with the media in what appeared to be a good-natured negotiation about how many starts he would need before his return. Three weeks ago Iwakuma believed he could make the start of the season. Now he hesitates to put a timetable on his return.
"That's a tough question because I have never been in this situation before," he said. "Obviously I want to come back as soon as possible. Hopefully within a week or two I will be able to throw hard and go from there."
In addition to conditioning and "shadow pitching" (throwing full bullpens using a towel instead of a baseball), Iwakuma has also had to work to keep the callus on the finger that allows him to get a better feel for his splitter. That callus is the last point of his hand that touches the baseball, and in his opinion is very important in what he tries do do with the ball.
"You don't want the tip of your finger to be too soft," he pointed out. "You don't want a bad callus at the same time, but you want it just right so you have conscious to the very end of your finger. I do some training so I can keep that end hard enough so I can feel the ball better. I am doing my best so there won't be any difference going forward so when I grip a ball to release it, it is there."
Iwakuma's job now is to stay fit and keep the finger as healthy as possible. Dwelling on missing starts in his mind is counterproductive.
"It is very disappointing," he admitted. "You can think about it and not go anywhere. You just have to move forward and come back as soon as possible. Make sure I don't get any setbacks coming back too quick. That's all I can think about going forward."
There will be baseball, probably.
The Mariners are scheduled to host the Angels in a game that can be heard at 12:05 p.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle. Conditions are quite wet as a big storm came through early this morning and another is on the way. Early reports had it hitting at game time but as of 9 PT the report is we will not see rain until 2 p.m., so for now it looks like this game will be played.
Angels not exactly tipping their hand with that lineup, but it will be good for the Mariners to get work against a lefty.
It is early and McClendon has had mostly positive things to say about everyone, but there are some names you hear mentioned more than others, and Xavier Avery is one of them. Avery is getting a look in right today and so far McClendon has been impressed with what he has seen from the outfielder who was acquired from the Orioles in exchange for Mike Morse last year.
"He's a gamer," said McClendon. "Makes things happen. He's got a couple of tools that can make things happen."
If the Mariners do not choose to go with an extra arm in the bullpen to help bridge the game until the return of Iwakuma, they appear to have a spot open on the bench. Avery could fit that role.