PEORIA, Ariz. -- After dealing with several injuries through the first several weeks of spring training, the Mariners can see the end of the tunnel for the return of several key players as they ramp up toward opening day.
Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Ichiro Suzuki are all expected to return to the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Cano has been sidelined due to a hamstring strain while Cruz strained his quadriceps. Both injuries occurred in games last week. Suzuki experienced tightness in his calf in a game last week. All three players took batting practice before Sunday's game against the Cleveland Indians. Suzuki will likely play in minor league games before all three return to the major league lineup on Wednesday.
Additionally, Felix Hernandez is set to pitch in a minor league game against the San Diego Padres on Monday. Hernandez took a line drive off the forearm in a game on Feb. 26 and has been sidelined since.
With Hernandez on the mend and Erasmo Ramirez appearing unlikely to be ready for the first potential turn in the rotation once the season begins, the Mariners are considering going light on the number of pitchers they keep on the roster out of spring. A number of off-days in the first few weeks of the season limits the need for a fifth starter to be with the team for Opening Day.
"I think you could look at do you start with 13 position players and only 12 pitchers until you need the fifth starter. I guess we'd kind of be leaning that way right now, but that could change based on the health of our pitching and our position players right now," manager Scott Servais said. "Just going with only the four starters out of camp is probably the easiest way to go until you need that fifth guy."
Rob Whalen and Ariel Miranda are the two most likely candidates to serve as that fifth starter when the time comes. Whalen made the start for the Mariners on Sunday against the Indians but it did not go as he would have hoped. Whalen didn't record a single out in the third inning as the allowed nine runs, eight of which were earned.
"Whalen has been so good all camp," Servais said. "Disappointing today. Didn't have the command. I think last time out he had an awesome curve ball and he didn't go to it enough today. I thought his pitch sequencing, his selection... his curve ball is kind of his pitch. We saw him punch out nine guys last time out there. Really didn't get into his game today, which does happen. It's part of the process and understanding where he came from to where he's at right now. He's still had a really good camp. Today just wasn't his day."
The drubbing of Whalen was the precursor to a romp by the Indians. Cleveland took a 10-2 lead through the first three frames and tacked on five more runs in the eighth inning to cruise to a 16-3 win.
Ryon Healy also played his second consecutive game after missing most of the first month of camp. Healy had surgery to remove a bone spur in his hand as he reported to camp for spring and didn't appear in a game until Saturday.
Healy went 1-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout after going 1-for-3 on Saturday. Healy will play in minor league games on Monday to get more at-bats before coming back to the major league side on Wednesday following the team's off-day.
-- The Mariners optioned catcher David Freitas, outfielder John Andreoli, and right-handed pitchers Shawn Armstrong, Art Warren and Mark Morin to minor league camp.
The move of Freitas leaves Mike Marjama as the likely backup catcher option to begin the season when the club breaks camp next Wednesday. Marjama and Mike Zunino are the only two catchers on the 40-man roster in camp with the club, though veteran Tuffy Goswisch remains with the major league club as a non-roster invitee.
Servais confirmed the pecking order following the game.
"Give Marjama a chance to catch more regularly the last week, he and Zunino, back and forth," Servais said. "Decision we made... it was a good competition. I like a lot of things that David Freitas brings, just think Marjama has had a better spring to this point."
-- Hisashi Iwakuma is making progress as he works back to full strength from shoulder surgery. The injury plagued Iwakuma throughout last season before requiring surgery over the offseason. While Iwakuma isn't expected to be ready to pitch in a major league game until well into the season, he is making steady progress in his recovery.
"I think everybody is very excited about where he's at in the arm strength. I know Kuma feels good about it," Servais said. "We are slow-playing him getting on the mound. We're not going to rush this thing, but I feel very confident that Kuma is going to help us at some point.
Servais said the earliest they expect Iwakuma to have a chance to make it back would be late-May, early-June. He is still scheduled to throw a bullpen before the end of spring training.
Photo Credit: PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Pitcher Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners poses for a portrait during photo day at Peoria Stadium on February 21, 2018 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)