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Elias has plans to pay visit to Cuba

Pitcher, who defected in 2010, has family there

By Bob Dutton Tacoma News Tribune

PEORIA, Ariz. –  The thawing relations between the United States and Cuba already has Mariners left-hander Roenis Elias, a 2010 defector, planning a trip back to his homeland to visit his family.

“I’ve got a visa,” he said. “I’m looking to go down there to visit family at the end of December. That’s going to be big to be able to see my father and my grandmother.

“Seeing them is going to give me more motivation to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Elias’ immediate goal this spring is to hold a job in the Mariners’ rotation. One of the camp’s key storylines is his projected battle with right-hander Taijuan Walker for the No. 5 spot.

A year ago, Elias, now 26, took advantage of spring injuries to Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma to win a big-league job after pitching the previous season at Double-A Jackson.

Elias then went 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 29 starts as a rookie before a sore elbow ended his season in mid-September.

“It was a little scary,” he said, “because I’ve never really had an arm injury. But I feel good. I got to rest this off-season. I got to spend time with my family – my wife and my son.

“So I’m ready to go and to help the team make the playoffs.”

Hultzen upbeat

Left-hander Danny Hultzen took the next step Sunday in his comeback from major shoulder surgery by throwing his first official bullpen workout.

“My arm hasn’t felt this good in a long time,” he said. “I’m real excited to be able to play again. …This just feels like a normal spring training. My arm feels good. I’m just treating it like that.

“I’m not really thinking about my arm anymore. I’m past that, which is a really good sign.”

Hultzen, 25, was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft and advanced to Triple-A Tacoma in 2013 before his shoulder began to hurt. That eventually resulted in surgery to his labrum and rotator cuff.

A year-long rehab program followed.

Iwakuma’s plans

Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, 33, isn’t looking to return to Japan when his contract expires at the end of the season.

“I would want to stay here and pitch,” he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki after throwing his first official bullpen workout.

Iwakuma will be a free agent after the season, although his contract allows the Mariners to retain rights to make a qualifying offer. He is 38-20 with a 3.07 ERA in three seasons following 11 years in Japan.

Time to limit playing time

Manager Lloyd McClendon wants to limit second baseman Robinson Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager to roughly 150 defensive starts. Both players would be in line for DH duty when not in the field.

“Robby (who is 32) is at the point now where he’s not going to play 162 games anymore,” McClendon said. “I’d like to see (Seager) in the 150-range as well.”

Cano played 157 games last year at second base, including 150 starts. Seager, 27, played and started 157 games at third base.

The Mariners gained another backup option for Cano and Seager by signing free-agent second baseman Rickie Weeks.

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