Growing stronger, Cishek offers effective arm

Mariners, former closer pleased with his improvement since returning from hip surgery

Growing stronger, Cishek offers effective arm

SEATTLE -- As the Mariners head into the third month of the season, talk will soon begin kicking up about midseason trade possibilities and potential additions or subtractions. But one guy who could provide a critical boost to Seattle's bullpen is already on the team.

Steve Cishek, a veteran closer who could be a key right-handed setup man when he gets back to full strength, has made five appearances now as he returns from offseason hip surgery. And his best outing came Wednesday with 1 2/3 perfect innings to help lock down James Paxton's outstanding start in a 5-0 win over the Rockies.

"He's a guy as he continues to build arm strength and get comfortable that will really be important for us as we move forward here," manager Scott Servais said. "He had a pretty major surgery done. We were all hoping he could be back at 100 percent and on top of his game by the 1st of May, and it just didn't happen that way."

It's starting to happen now, however. The Mariners have protected Cishek as much as possible while allowing him to round back into form. After a rough beginning, when he got thrown into a save situation in the ninth inning on May 16 in just his second day back because there were no other right-handers left in the 'pen, Cishek has pitched only every fifth day.

He gave up three runs in that 9-6 loss to the A's in the save situation, but since then has made three straight scoreless appearances, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out two in 3 2/3 innings.

The best of those was Wednesday, when Cishek entered with one out and two on after Paxton finally faltered in the sixth inning with a 3-0 lead. Cishek proceeded to get popouts from DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado, and then followed with a 1-2-3 seventh.

"My fastball felt great," Cishek said. "I feel like I'm getting a lot closer with that, just getting down the mound like I had last year. The slider was just off a tick, but still effective, and I was able to mix speeds with it. It felt good to get out there in a situation like that."

After missing almost all of Spring Training as he returned from the microfracture surgery, Cishek appreciates the progress.

"I feel like every few days the ball is coming out livelier than when I first got brought up," he said. "I'm starting to feel a lot stronger, so hopefully I keep trending that way."

Worth noting

Felix Hernandez will throw a two-inning simulated game of about 30 pitches prior to Friday's series opener with the Rays at Safeco Field, as he continues building back up after almost six weeks on the disabled list with bursitis in his right shoulder.

Felix makes friends in Seattle

If all goes well, Hernandez then will head out to make the first of what is expected to be two Minor League rehab starts on either Tuesday or Wednesday, as he continues targeting a mid-June return.

Hisashi Iwakuma, also returning from a shoulder issue, will throw a bullpen session on Saturday and could then advance to a simulated game situation next week.

• Outfielder Mitch Haniger, out since April 25 with a right oblique strain, will take batting practice with the club all weekend and be re-evaluated on Monday before a decision is made on when and where to send him on a Minor League rehab stint.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.