Seattle Mariners

Wade LeBlanc nearing return to Mariners rotation, but starter Felix Hernandez projected to miss 4-6 weeks

Pitcher Wade LeBlanc throws a pitch in the first inning. The Seattle Mariners played the Boston Red Sox in a Major League Baseball Game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Sunday, March 31, 2019.
Pitcher Wade LeBlanc throws a pitch in the first inning. The Seattle Mariners played the Boston Red Sox in a Major League Baseball Game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Sunday, March 31, 2019. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

As one Seattle Mariners starter begins a stint on the injured list that could last several weeks, another is ready to make his return to the starting rotation.

Veteran lefty Wade LeBlanc, who was place on the 10-day IL with a right oblique strain on April 14, was back in the Mariners’ clubhouse Tuesday afternoon following a rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma on Monday night.

LeBlanc threw 59 pitches across 4 1/3 innings with the Rainiers in Las Vegas, allowing one run on three hits, and struck out two batters and walked two.

“It felt good to be back out there,” LeBlanc said. “A little rusty on some pitches here or there, but the main thing I was looking for was being able to make adjustments. You’re going to make mistakes even if you’re on start No. 20 in your prime. It’s the ability to make the adjustment on the next pitch and get back to where you need to be, and I was able to do that. So, it’s a good step.”

Mariners manager Scott Servais said LeBlanc’s fastball was working, and while his other pitches lacked somewhat in his first outing since the injury, LeBlanc was able to get through his scheduled 60 pitches, which was the focus.

LeBlanc said he did not hold back during the start, and did not feel any oblique discomfort during his four-plus innings of work.

“We’ve done enough work throughout the rehab process, done enough throwing to know that I can trust that my body was going to tell me whether we were OK or not,” he said.

“There was no hesitation. I know some guys, especially with surgeries and things, guys get to that hump and they’re scared to kind of push through it. But, throughout the whole process, it’s been pain-free, so I really didn’t have any hesitation at all.”

LeBlanc is projected to rejoin the starting rotation during this weekend’s series against the visiting Minnesota Twins. In three starts with the Mariners this season, he has compiled a 2-0 record and 4.50 ERA across 16 innings.

As he pitched Monday night, LeBlanc likely won’t fill the empty rotation spot Friday on only three days rest, but could appear later in the series.

The Mariners currently have an opening Friday in right-hander Felix Hernandez’s spot. Hernandez was placed on the 10-day IL since Sunday following his most recent start.

“We could do some other things,” Servais said. “We have an off day in there too (on Wednesday), so we could slide some guys around.”

“I’m always ready to go,” LeBlanc said. “Whenever they want to give me the ball I’ll take it. I’ll leave that decision up to them.”

Hernandez was originally diagnosed with a right shoulder strain, but testing determined he has a Grade 1 right lat strain, and he is expected to miss four to six weeks of playing time. He likely won’t resume throwing activities for about two weeks.

“It’s not as severe as what (Mariners closer) Hunter Strickland had, so hopefully it’s not quite the whole period, but it’s disappointing for him,” Servais said.

Hernandez was 1-4 with a 6.52 ERA in eight starts before he was placed on the IL. He said he’s never had this type of injury in his career, and felt pinching and tightness during his start against Boston, during which he collected his 2,500th career strikeout.

“Just rehab and a lot of exercise, and see where we go from there,” Hernandez said.

GORDON, MOORE PROGRESSING

Both second baseman Dee Gordon and rookie utility player Dylan Moore, who are recovering from wrist injuries, are nearing returns, and both have started taking BP again.

Gordon, who was not placed on the IL after he was hit by a pitch last week in New York, acted as a pinch runner in Monday night’s walk-off win against Oakland, but has not yet returned to the starting lineup.

Servais projects Gordon will rejoin the starting lineup when the Mariners begin their four-game set against the Twins on Thursday.

Moore, who is on the 10-day IL with a deep bone bruise in his wrist, was taking infield ground balls ahead of Tuesday night’s game, and has resumed throwing. His wrist remains wrapped as a precaution, but he said he felt good and loose throwing to first.

“I kind of just went for it, and no pain, no discomfort,” he said.

A day after he was hit by a pitch, Moore replaced Gordon in last Thursday’s loss to the Yankees, and was placed on the IL on Friday.

“The adrenaline of that game kind of helped with the pain,” Moore said. “And the next day I was like, ‘Wow, something’s really hurting in there.’ The next day it was probably the most sore, and from then on it’s been less and less pain.”

Servais was hopeful Moore would be ready to rejoin the Mariners when his IL stay ends. He will be eligible to return during Seattle’s next road trip.

SEAGER BEGINS REHAB ASSIGNMENT

Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager (hand) started his rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday in Las Vegas. He was 1-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout.

Servais said Seager, who was the DH for Tuesday’s day game, will likely make a start at third base next.

Seager is eligible to return to the Mariners on May 25, and will likely spend the entirety of his rehab stint with the Rainiers.

Center fielder Mallex Smith, who was optioned in April to regroup from early offensive and defensive struggles with the Mariners, was given a day off Tuesday.

“He continues to do well,” Servais said. “We’ll just have to wait and see when he joins us. I would suspect he’d be with us soon.”

Outfielder Braden Bishop, who has spent two stints with the Mariners this season before recently being optioned back to Tacoma, finished 3-for-5 in Tuesday’s Rainiers game with two homers, a double and three RBIs.

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.
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