Paxton cleared to return to hill Sunday

Mariners lefty had been out since May 28 with strained finger tendon

Paxton cleared to return to hill Sunday

SEATTLE -- Though nothing has been officially announced by manager Lloyd McClendon, all signs point to left-hander James Paxton rejoining the Mariners' rotation on Sunday to face the Rockies for his first start since going on the disabled list 15 weeks ago with a strained tendon in the middle finger on his pitching hand.

Paxton was pulled early from his last rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma on Sept. 2 after tearing the fingernail on that same finger, but has recovered from that setback and had no problems in a full-out bullpen session Thursday.

"I feel great," Paxton said Friday. "No problems at all. I'm feeling good. As long as he gives me the ball, I'm out there."

McClendon wasn't ready to commit to that before Friday's series opener with the Rockies, but said "it's trending toward Paxton starting Sunday."

The lanky Canadian went 3-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 10 games as Seattle's No. 2 starter to open the season before injuring his finger. He's thrown 58 1/3 innings and the Mariners would like to build him up with three or four starts in the remaining three weeks of the seaosn as well as in the Arizona Fall League in October and November.

"I'll go get as many innings as I can there [in the AFL], then finish it off so I can have a good offseason and be ready for Spring Training," Paxton said. "We want to keep it going so this year, depending on what I get to -- 120, 130 innings -- then I can be ready to go as many as they want next year, 180 or somewhere in there, who knows? We haven't talked about it yet. But just so I'm ready to go [next year]."

For now, Paxton is just looking forward to getting back on the mound at Safeco Field on Sunday, if possible.

"I'm definitely excited to be back out there," he said. "It's been a long time coming and I'm just ready to get back out there and compete."

Worth noting

• If Paxton pitches Sunday, Taijuan Walker will be pushed back a day to face the Angels on Monday. That would likely set up Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma to close out the Angels series Tuesday and Wednesday.

McClendon isn't committing to a six-man rotation for the rest of the season, but would like to keep Vidal Nuno starting for the next turn after his seven-inning, one-hit gem against the Rangers on Wednesday. Nuno could potentially face Texas again when Seattle opens its final road trip of the season in Arlington on Friday.

• Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez ran the bases under the supervision of trainers Rick Griffin and Rob Nodine before batting practice Friday and had no problems with the strained right groin muscle that has sidelined him the past six games.

McClendon said Gutierrez, who struck out as a pinch-hitter in Friday's game against the Rockies, could be ready to start Saturday when the Mariners face left-hander Yohan Flande.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.