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Originally published March 21, 2014 at 10:13 PM | Page modified March 22, 2014 at 9:06 PM

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Hisashi Iwakuma throws tennis ball with no pain; Taijuan Walker, Stephen Pryor get closer

None of three are likely to be ready for opening day. But the Mariners can at least envision them being in uniform by May.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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PEORIA, Ariz. — Day by day, the Mariners pitching staff is working to become whole once again.

After a panic-filled first few weeks of spring training featuring injuries to Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners can now exhale in relief as both are slowly progressing toward being healthy. Meanwhile hard-throwing reliever Stephen Pryor is recovering faster than expected – a pleasant surprise for the Mariners.

None of three are likely to be ready for opening day. But the Mariners can at least envision them being in uniform by May.

On Friday, Iwakuma threw a ball for the first time since being shut down with a tendon strain in the middle finger of his throwing hand. But the all-star right-hander wasn’t tossing a baseball, instead throwing a tennis ball against the wall.

“I threw about 40 to 45 times with a tennis ball inside the weight room,” Iwakuma said through translator Anthony Suzuki. “I felt good, no pain, better range of motion. So far, so good.”

Iwakuma started at 30 feet and slowly worked back in 5-foot increments. He will throw a tennis ball on Saturday and Sunday. If there are no issues with the finger, he will throw a baseball on Monday. It’s a slow, but necessary process.

“I’m happy he’s back out and starting to be active again,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “But this is going to take a little while. It’s not going to happen overnight. We just need to get him moving forward.”

The Mariners need Iwakuma to return healthy. He was their best pitcher last season, posting a 14-6 record with a 2.66 ERA in 219.2 innings pitched.

Walker has been moving forward rapidly since returning from a seven-day period of no throwing because shoulder bursitis.

He’s thrown three bullpen sessions and the Mariners saw enough in them to schedule him to pitch in a minor league game on Saturday. Walker will throw around 20-30 pitches and hopefully two innings, according to McClendon.

Walker won’t be the only recovering pitcher to throw in that minor-league game. Reliever Stephen Pryor will also make his first game appearance of the spring. Pryor is recovering from surgery to repair latissmus dorsi. He’s thrown five bullpens and three live batting practice sessions, slowly building his way back from surgery.

“I feel good,” Pryor said a few days ago. “No problems. It’s starting to feel normal.”

M’s add to staff

The Mariners have added a quality-control coach position to the major-league coaching staff, promoting Chris Prieto to the job.

Prieto managed the Pulaski Mariners (Rookie League) last season and was slated to manage Class A Clinton this season.

What will Prieto do?

“He will coordinate our statistical analysis department,” McClendon said. “He will be the liaison between that department and our coaching staff, making sure our scouting reports are right on and have the things that we want and the things that we need and eliminate the things that we don’t need. He will be in charge of defense and how we position. He’ll do in-depth scouting on how we position players as we move forward during the season.”

Prieto will also throw some batting practice, hit ground balls and travel with the team. He will be in uniform for pregame only.

“I think it’s a good idea,” McClendon said of the position. “I think it’s something most clubs are moving toward to give us that eye in the sky, so to speak. It’s a little different perspective. It gives the ability to not only scout other teams, but also scout ourselves.”

Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373

On Twitter: @Ryan Divish

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