These are mostly baby steps, but the Mariners appear to be making genuine progress toward restoring their projected rotation.
Lefty James Paxton is in line to be the first to return.
He threw a 25-pitch bullpen workout Thursday as the next step in his recovery from a strained forearm muscle, which surfaced after a May 2 start against the Los Angeles Angels.
His assessment: "Great."
Plans call fro Paxton to throw another bullpen workout Sunday before heading out on a minor-league rehab assignment — probably to Double-A Arkansas, which begins a six-game homestand on Tuesday in Little Rock.
"Give him 65-70 pitches, one rehab (start)," manager Scott Servais said, "and then get him back in the rotation."
A best-case scenario would enable Paxton to return by the end of the upcoming road trip that begins Tuesday in Washington before a weekend series in Boston and two games at Colorado.
Paxton was 3-0 with a 1.43 ERA in six starts when he went to the disabled list.
***Right-handers Felix Hernandez (shoulder bursitis) and Hisashi Iwakuma (shoulder inflammation) played catch prior to Thursday’s game.
For Hernandez, it was resumption of activity after being backed off a week ago in his recovery from an injury diagnosed after an April 25 start at Detroit. Barring further setbacks, he could return by early June.
Iwakuma threw for first since being diagnosed after a May 3 start against the Los Angeles Angels. The original recovery projection of four-to-six weeks would, in a best-case scenario, permit him to return in mid-June.
***Left-hander Drew Smyly reported no day-after problems Thursday after playing catch for the first time since being diagnosed in spring with a strained flexor bundle (muscle and tendon) in his elbow.
"A big step," he said. "Real big. First time in six weeks. Right now, we’re just doing every other day. Just 60 feet this week."
A late June return seems a best-case scenario, but Smyly said club officials told him: "Until I get further into the catch, at least every day, they’re not going to do a timeline."
The Mariners acquired Smyly in a Jan. 11 trade from Tampa Bay.
"It’s been the worst (situation)," he said. "For the team, it’s been brutal (with all of the injuries). Individually, you want to come over here and play right away and show the team what you can do.
"Hopefully, I can get healthy and be out there sooner than later."
Outfielder Mitch Haniger passed a major test when he reported no day-after problems with his strained right oblique muscle after testing it Wednesday in batting practice.
Haniger took a another step Thursday by throwing to the bases from the outfield. He also could return to active duty at some point on the upcoming road trip.
Haniger was batting .342 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 21 games when he suffered the injury April 25 in Detroit — the same game in which the Mariners lost Hernandez.
***Second baseman Robinson Cano planned to test his recovery from a strained right quadriceps muscle by hitting balls from a tee in the indoor cages. Barring a setback, he should return for Tuesday’s series opener at Washington.
AND SOME BULLPEN HELP
Right-handed reliever Shea Simmons is getting close to starting a minor-league rehab assignment in his recovery from a strained right elbow, which forced him to leave a March 11 game against Cincinnati in spring training.
Simmons, 26, had positioned himself to win a roster spot before the injury.
The Mariners acquired Simmons in a Jan. 11 trade from Atlanta. He spent most of the last two seasons recovering from reconstructive-elbow surgery but returned late last season and displayed upper-90s velocity.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners