Mariners could be in for another 'pen shuffle

Seattle has used an MLB-high 35 pitchers this season

Mariners could be in for another 'pen shuffle

SEATTLE -- Be prepared for reliever roulette to return to the Mariners.

With some of Seattle's starting pitchers struggling, and others still building up stamina, Mariners manager Scott Servais knows his team is going to have to win games unconventionally and turn to the bullpen early in the game more frequently moving forward.

"I think you'll see us a little bit where we were in May, when you saw maybe some shuffling from [Triple-A] Tacoma and here," Servais said. "If you're running through some of your length guys in the bullpen, you're going to have to get some fresh guys. That's just where we're at."

Seattle has used an MLB-high 35 pitchers this season. Casey Lawrence and Emilio Pagan are in line for long relief work currently in the Mariners bullpen, but, like what happened in May, the Mariners won't hesitate to bring in a fresh arm in case the bullpen needs to eat up innings following a short start.

The Mariners boast the American League's best record since the All-Star break (16-9), even with unspectacular starting pitching. Take away James Paxton's five earned runs in 32 innings and the Mariners' second half ERA from starting pitchers balloons from 4.05 to 4.75. Yovani Gallardo owns a 4.50 ERA and 7.44 FIP since returning to the rotation. Ariel Miranda's ERA is 7.16 since the start of July. Erasmo Ramirez is building back stamina since being converted back into a starter.

What's more is the Mariners are limited to a seven-man bullpen since the acquisition of first baseman Yonder Alonso added to platoon with Danny Valencia at first base.

"Is it going to be easy? No, it's not," Servais explained. "Am I up for the challenge and all of our coaching staff? Yes. I think with how this thing was put together and what we did in May to keep us alive to get into this spot, we kind of have to pick that same mentality again and understand that without starting pitching it's really hard to put together six-, seven-, eight-game winning streaks together, but that doesn't stop us from winning series. And you've heard me preach that since the All-Star break."

Haniger retuns to 'baseball activities'

Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger is working out, throwing and he hit batting practice before Thursday's game. If he continues to make strides in his recovery, Servais said a rehab assignment is imminent.

Haniger has been on the disabled list since July 30 with a facial laceration after being struck in the face by a fastball from Mets' pitcher Jacob deGrom.

"Mitch is doing really good," Servais said. "It doesn't even really look he got hit. His mustache has already grown in. You can't really see much at all there."

Iwakuma making strides

Servais said Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma has thrown three bullpens and is scheduled to throw a "more extended" bullpen on Friday. Iwakuma said he'll throw a simulated game early next week if that goes well.

Iwakuma has made serious progress since experiencing discomfort in his right shoulder and stumbling in two rehab starts earlier this season. That prompted the Mariners to pump the brakes with his recovery.

Iwakuma believes he's steadily returning to form.

"I think overall [I've gotten] better arm speed, arm action, getting my mechanics and my delivery to where I want to. It's stress free on the shoulder. That's a good sign for me," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki.

Worth noting

• Servais said reliever David Phelps is "feeling better" and his right elbow has calmed down since leaving Sunday's first game with the Royals with impingement. He's eligible to return on Aug. 17.

• Catcher Tuffy Gosewisch was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma after clearing waivers.

Josh Horton is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.