SEATTLE -- All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw 58 pitches in a four-inning simulated game against Mariners teammates on Tuesday afternoon, moving a step closer to rejoining Seattle's rotation.
The 33-year-old originally had planned to make his first Minor League rehab start Tuesday night for Triple-A Tacoma, but the threat of rain led the Mariners to keep him at Safeco Field and throw under the roof prior to Tuesday night's game with the Astros.
Iwakuma said he felt much sharper than in his first simulated outing last Friday in Miami, and there's a chance he could be ready to join the Mariners after a rehab start in Las Vegas this Sunday for Tacoma.
If all goes well, he could be in line to return at some point during Seattle's nine-day, 10-game trek to New York, Houston and Oakland from April 29-May 7.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said Iwakuma will throw about 75 pitches in the Las Vegas outing, but continued to stress caution as the Japanese standout builds his arm strength up after missing all of Spring Training with a sprained tendon in his right middle finger.
"We'll see how it goes," McClendon said. "You have to be patient because we're talking about a guy that isn't a one-year wonder. I plan on this guy being around a long time because I plan on being around a long time. I want to make sure I take care of him."
Iwakuma looked strong pitching to Stefen Romero, Willie Bloomquist, Nick Franklin and Logan Morrison as he worked all his pitches, including his trademark splitter and what pitching coach Rick Waits said was a surprisingly sharp curveball.
"Nasty," said catcher John Buck after working the four innings behind the plate.
"It felt a lot better," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "The feel for the game is coming back gradually. I felt a lot better than the last time we did the sim game in Miami. Everything is moving forward. The ball jumped out of my hand pretty well. I feel pretty close now to the regular season."
Waits said the 33-year-old continues to have no problems with his finger and the focus now is strictly on building up his arm strength and conditioning.
"The main thing is he's getting better each time, from each bullpen to each sim game," said Waits. "The thing I was most impressed with today was in his fourth inning he still had great arm strength. That's what I was looking for. He wasn't tiring. He probably needs to work a little more from his full windup to get his timing, but all four pitches were working."
Iwakuma finished third in the American League Cy Young voting last year after going 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 33 starts and would be a welcome boost for a Seattle rotation that also has James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Blake Beavan on the disabled list.
McClendon preaching patience with scuffling bats
SEATTLE -- Lloyd McClendon has watched his Mariners struggle offensively after getting off a hot start on their season-opening road trip, dropping near the bottom of the American League in batting average, scoring and on-base percentage.
But the former Tigers hitting coach says he's taking a longer-term view of his club's offensive abilities and believes it's far too early to think about shaking things up or changing personnel from what he felt was a solid lineup coming out of Spring Training.
"I had a long talk with somebody I really trust about this," McClendon said prior to Tuesday's game with the Astros. "You leave Spring Training with a club you feel good about, you're 20 games into the season and you're not playing as well as you should. You don't drastically change your feelings about how you feel about those players.
"You continue to encourage them and make them better and prod them and hopefully in the very near future, they'll get going the way you think they can. And that's our plan here," he said. "I don't [plan] to make any drastic changes, I don't feel any different about my players now than I felt coming out of Spring Training. I like my club, I think we're talented.
"Are we short in some areas? Yeah," McClendon said. "But I like my club and I like the pitching. We're banged up a little and have been dealt a tough hand, but we'll deal with that. We'll bluff our way through it and in the end, we'll be just fine."
McClendon said he feels it takes about 50 games to get a real feel for a team and its direction.
"Over the course of a season, guys are going to accumulate 500-550 at-bats," he said. "I don't think I'm going to change my mind after 50 at-bats. I don't know what that cutoff mark is. Maybe somewhere around 150 at-bats you see what you've got and whether you need to make changes, but it's certainly not at the 40-50 mark."
McClendon said players are naturally pushing too hard right now to turn things around.
"I just see guys that are in a funk right now," he said. "When you lose seven in a row, guys press a little. That's just the nature of the business. But at some point you have to come out of it. Maybe it's a broken-bat single, maybe it's a home run. I don't know. But I'll know when it happens and you will, too."
Mariners take pride in 'green' efforts
SEATTLE -- Tuesday was Earth Day around the country, but the Mariners didn't line up any special events to promote the day for one simple reason.
"Every day is Earth Day at Safeco Field," said public information director Rebecca Hale, noting the club takes great pride in being one of the top recycling teams in Major League Baseball.
Last fall, the Mariners won their second consecutive award from the Commissioner's Office as the top recycler in the American League and were just edged out by the Giants as the top recycler in MLB. The team has increased its recycling rate at Safeco Field from 12 percent in 2005 to over 90 percent in 2013.
Nearly everything used at Safeco Field is recyclable or compostable, down to the straws, spoons, forks and leftover food. Hale said the club continues to look for recyclable products as it move toward a goal of zero waste.
The Mariners are in their third year of a partnership with BASF for Sustainable Saturdays, a season-long interactive program that raises awareness of environmentally responsible practices through ballpark signs and a trivia game that asks fans questions.
Fans are able to win an iPad Mini or Galaxy Tablet at the Sustainable Saturdays, which will be May 10, May 31, June 14, June 28, July 12, July 26, Aug. 30 and Sept. 27.
Additionally, outfielder Michael Saunders and shortstop Brad Miller have participated in a project for the King County EcoConsumer program where they videotaped themselves making an environmental message using a refurbished iPod Touch.
• Felix Hernandez's career ERA of 2.54 in 45 April starts is the lowest of any Major League pitcher in that month since 1946, just ahead of the 2.55 of Fernando Valenzuela and Chris Bosio.
• Logan Morrison isn't eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list until April 30, but the outfielder/designated hitter hit in a simulated game against Hisashi Iwakuma on Tuesday and is recovering from a hamstring strain that sidelined him the past week.
"He's close," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I'm not sure if he's quite there yet, but I would suspect he'll have to go out and get some at-bats [in a Minor League rehab] and get sharp again."
• Right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor has allowed one run and three hits over three innings his first three relief appearances for Triple-A Tacoma as he works his way back from last season's biceps surgery.
"I wouldn't say he's close [to rejoining the Mariners], but his velocity is steadily climbing," McClendon said. "He's getting better."