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SEA@HOU: Iwakuma strikes out 11 over five innings

Last April, Jason Vargas was aligning himself behind Felix Hernandez atop the Mariners' rotation and Hisashi Iwakuma was buried in Seattle's bullpen.

A year later, Iwakuma has assumed Vargas' spot on Seattle's staff, and Vargas is set to make his return to Safeco Field to face the Mariners for the first time as a member of the division-rival Angels. The two will square off in a Sunday afternoon affair.

"I look forward to facing him," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "He was a great teammate of ours. At the same time, when it comes down to business, you need to get your game on."

The Mariners traded Vargas to their American League West foe in December for slugger Kendrys Morales. Vargas spent four years with the Mariners, with whom he won 36 games, including a career-high 14 last season.

"I loved it [in Seattle]," Vargas said. "I grew a lot as a pitcher, especially after not knowing what was going to happen -- after struggling and having some injuries. The opportunity and just the pitching coaches that I had a chance to work with just helped me evolve and get better."

Vargas said it will be strange facing his former teammates.

"I've never been over here," he said. "But when it all comes down to it, it's just another team you have to go play, right? When you're familiar with coming here and the surroundings and stuff, there's not a whole lot of change except you have to go to the other side."

Iwakuma has pitched admirably this season, having compiled a 2-1 record and 1.99 ERA in five starts. He has come a long way since making only two appearances last April.

Vargas, on the other hand, is still searching for his first win of the season. He is 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA in four outings, having surrendered 34 hits in 21 2/3 innings. In his last start, he held Texas to three runs in seven frames.

"I feel confident in what I can go out there and do every fifth day," Vargas said. "It's just about the preparation in between and just staying with it, believing. Just knowing this is what you do. You can go out there and help your team win. It's all about that game."

And Sunday's game will be a little more special for the southpaw.

"A lot of good memories here," Vargas said, "but obviously I'm on the other side of the fence now. We're here to win ball games."

Angels: Aybar nearing return
Manager Mike Scioscia said shortstop Erick Aybar is "really close" to returning from a bruised left heel. Aybar played seven innings of defense in his third extended spring training game in Arizona on Saturday. Aybar, who has not played since April 9, is batting .321 in seven games this season.

• Tommy Hanson is scheduled to start on Monday, when he will rejoin the team after being on the bereavement list because of a death in the family.

Mariners: Datz reveals battle with cancer
Jeff Datz informed the team and the players on Saturday that he has cancer. Datz has been the club's third-base coach for the past three seasons. He has known manager Eric Wedge since the two were managers in the Indians' farm system in 1998.

"He's going to beat this," Wedge said. "We've all experienced cancer in some way, shape or form. We've been dealing with this for a couple weeks, but we feel it's the right time to announce it to the team because he is going to miss some time away from the team at some point in time."

Worth noting
• The Mariners expect outfielder Michael Saunders to return to the team on Monday as he completes his recovery from a sprained right shoulder.

• Angels righty Joe Blanton has allowed at least one hit in each inning he has pitched this season (30), and has surrendered 47 total. Comments