MINNEAPOLIS -- James Paxton on Saturday took another step toward rejoining the Mariners' rotation, as the 25-year-old left-hander threw two innings in a simulated game against Seattle teammates, his first time facing live hitters since he strained a muscle in his back on April 8.
Taijuan Walker, the Mariners' other injured young starter, also threw Saturday with 55 pitches in the bullpen as preparation for his own simulated game on Tuesday in Texas.
Walker, 21, is one step behind Paxton as both return from injuries that have them on the 15-day disabled list. Paxton will throw his second simulated game in Texas, expecting to throw three or four innings on Tuesday in conjunction with Walker.
Paxton on Saturday threw 36 pitches in his live session against Stefen Romero, Logan Morrison, Cole Gillespie and John Buck. Romero managed a broken-bat single in his first frame, while Gillespie hit a hard line shot back up the middle in the second. Romero later laced another base hit to right.
"It felt good," Paxton said. "I left some pitches over the middle, but overall no pain, and my stuff is feeling good. I'm making progress. I was probably throwing at about 85 percent. It's kind of hard to get that adrenaline going. But overall I felt great, and it's a good step forward."
Paxton was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two games before he strained the lat muscle behind his left shoulder in Anaheim on April 8. If all goes well, he will head out on a Minor League rehab stint after another simulated game or two and could be ready to rejoin the Mariners' rotation around the end of May or early June.
Though not looking that far ahead, manager Lloyd McClendon said Paxton passed his first test against live hitters.
"It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad, and I suspect that he'll build on that," McClendon said of Saturday's session. "For his first time out [against live hitters], I thought he did OK."
Walker has yet to pitch in the Majors this year after dealing with a sore shoulder for most of spring, then getting shut down in mid-April after feeling some stiffness again during a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma.
The young right-hander, ranked the No. 5 prospect in baseball and No. 1 in the Mariners organization by MLB.com, said everything was sharp in the bullpen on Saturday except his cutter, which he will make a point of emphasis prior to facing live hitters Tuesday.
But overall, Walker said he felt stronger than he did in the similar leadup to his previous Minor League stint.
"I'm not getting tired in my bullpens," he said. "Today I threw 55, and that's a lot of pitches, but I got stronger at the end, so that was a plus. My arm strength is getting there."
Mariners skip Maurer's start vs. Rangers
MINNEAPOLIS -- With an off-day Monday while they travel to Texas, the Mariners have chosen to skip right-hander Brandon Maurer's next scheduled start and juggle their rotation following the conclusion of this weekend's series with the Twins.
Hisashi Iwakuma will pitch Tuesday against the Rangers as scheduled, but Chris Young moves up to take Wednesday's finale of the two-game set in Arlington.
Maurer was originally slated for that spot, but he will work instead as the long man in the bullpen in the Rangers series and then rejoin the rotation when Seattle returns home for an 11-game stand at Safeco Field.
The Mariners will face the Astros in a four-game set to start that homestand, with Roenis Elias slated for Thursday, Felix Hernandez on Friday, Maurer on Saturday and Iwakuma on Sunday.
Maurer is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in five starts, and he lasted just 3 2/3 innings against the Rays in his latest outing.
"Right now we have guys that are throwing a little better," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "This gives him a chance to get rested up, it gives us some help in the bullpen and he'll be back in there on the next turn."
The Mariners are intrigued by Maurer's potential but are still waiting for results at the big league level.
"Obviously the next step is up to him," McClendon said. "You've got to go out and get it done. We can talk about how close he is and the intangibles he brings and the stuff. Ultimately he has to perform on the field. But yeah, I think he's close."
McClendon: Cano's homers to come in bunches
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano passed the quarter mark in the season on Friday with one home run, nine doubles and 23 RBIs with a .304 batting average. Though the home run total is far below Cano's norm, manager Lloyd McClendon said it was only a matter of time before the five-time All-Star raised that pace.
Cano doubled to the opposite field off the top of the fence in left-center in Friday's 5-4 loss to the Twins, coming within inches of his second home run of the year. He hit the yellow line atop the fence for another double going the same way at Safeco Field on Monday.
"I'm not concerned about his power at all," McClendon said prior to Saturday's game. "I challenge anybody to hit that ball as far as he did yesterday. That was about 415 feet into the gap. He hit that ball pretty good, without a lot of effort, just flicking the wrists."
Cano was on pace going into Saturday's game to hit four home runs, 36 doubles and 92 RBIs in 162 games, and McClendon believes he will exceed those numbers.
"If you look at the history of this guy, when he gets hot, he really turns it on," McClendon said. "He turns it on like you've never seen. I think he's probably a little ahead of pace, really. He's probably going to finish with 40 doubles, 25 home runs and 100-plus RBIs.
"The power numbers will come. He hit a breaking ball yesterday that was as hard a hit breaking ball as I've seen all year. If he'd have got that ball up, it might have left the ballpark in right field. To say he doesn't have power, it hasn't produced itself yet. But I can see it coming."
McClendon said the fact Cano was producing without having hit a hot stretch yet just shows his talent at the plate.
"The guy hits," McClendon said. "He's like a guy that scores 20 points in basketball. You look up and say, 'How did he get those points?' It's the same thing with Robbie. You look up and he's hitting .300 and has nine or 10 doubles and 20-25 RBIs. His home runs will come, and they'll come in bunches.
"He kind of reminds me a little of [Barry] Bonds, not in the sense of power, but a Bonds or [Miguel] Cabrera. They're line-drive hitters that happen to hit home runs. He's going to hit his home runs. They'll come."
• Rookie center fielder James Jones had recorded at least one hit in each of his first eight starts going into Saturday's game, becoming the fourth Mariner ever to achieve that feat. Edgar Martinez had hits in his first 10 Major League starts in 1987; Alvin Davis hit safely in his first nine starts in 1984; and Paul Serna had eight straight starts with a hit to open his career in 1981.
• After hitting in Saturday's simulated game against Paxton, Morrison ran the bases in a series of drills with trainer Rick Griffin as the outfielder/designated hitter moves closer to returning from a month-long stint on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring.
When Morrison is ready, he will go on a Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma for up to 20 days.