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Mariners aiming for late April return for starters Iwakuma, Walker

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners are said to be hoping for a late April return for recovering pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker.

Unofficially, the hope is that both pitchers can be back by sometime during the third week of April. That sounds pretty specific, but every day counts when a team with playoff aspirations is piecing together most of a rotation early in the year. Walker (shoulder), one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, is said to be doing very well, while Iwakuma (middle finger), who was a brilliant 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 2013, may have his splint removed by the end of this week.

They badly need both pitchers.

The Mariners have their ace, Felix Hernandez, and while they won't say it, top left-handed pitching prospect James Paxton is a sure bet to be in the Mariners' rotation, as well. That makes two.

After that, there are a whole lot of questions.

The very veteran Randy Wolf, a candidate for the rotation but perhaps more likely ultimately for the bullpen, took the mound Wednesday vs. the Cubs as one of at least a half-dozen candidates for the other three spots at the start of the season. Wolf looked OK, allowing home runs to Cubs prospects Mike Olt and Javier Baez, in his first four innings, so he may remain in the mix.

Wolf, 37, half-kiddingly vowed before the game to "pitch until I look my age."

Other candidates for the final three rotation spots would appear to Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beaven, Scott Baker, Hector Noesi and Roenis Elias. Beaven and Elias, a Cuban import, were mentioned for having nice springs. Baker, who would appear to have an edge as one of the more accomplished contenders (other than Wolf), had the distinction of hitting three straight Angels in a recent game.

Needless to say, this isn't an optimal pitching situation.

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