NEW YORK — Look for All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to rejoin the Mariners’ rotation Saturday and make his season debut that afternoon against the Astros in Houston.
The official announcement likely won’t come before Saturday because activating Iwakuma from the disabled list requires a corresponding roster move, but club officials privately confirm he will pitch that day.
For now, manager Lloyd McClendon merely identifies Iwakuma as “a possibility” to pitch Saturday but acknowledged he didn’t “have any concerns” at returning him to the rotation.
Iwakuma, 33, finished third last season in the Cy Young Award voting after going 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 33 starts. He also compiled the highest WAR (wins above replacement) rating among American League pitchers.
Until now, he’s been unavailable this season because of a strained ligament in his middle finger. The injury occurred in a late January workout but wasn’t identified until he arrived in early February for spring training.
The injury prevented Iwakuma from throwing until late in spring training, and he didn’t return to game action until last Sunday, when he threw 83 pitches over four innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma at Las Vegas.
Iwakuma said, earlier this week, he felt ready to return to the rotation.
“Yes, of course,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “If I wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t be pitching…As of now, it’s not where I finished off last year. I think I’m around 70 percent overall.
“And it will get better. It’s been getting better every bullpen I’ve had.”
Tentative plans called for Iwakuma to pitch Friday,, but McClendon pushed two starters, Roenis Elias and Felix Hernandez, back one day after rain postponed Wednesday’s game at Yankee Stadium.
A healthy, effective Iwakuma would provide an immediate boost for a patchwork rotation that is also struggling to overcome injuries to two other starters: promising rookies James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.
Further, Erasmo Ramirez pitched so poorly that he was optioned to the minors; and Blake Beavan, promoted after Paxton’s injury, lasted just four innings before shoulder problems forced him to the disabled list.