PEORIA, Ariz. -- After missing most of last season with a torn muscle behind his right shoulder, Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor seems optimistic he will be able to contribute to his team's efforts even as he recovers from a surgery that is rare in pitching circles.
Pryor, 24, is not yet throwing off a mound, but he is playing long toss, doing fielding drills and feeling like part of the team again after spending five months last year in the training room.
Pryor initially tore the latissimus dorsi muscle in his right shoulder off the bone, then spent three months doing rehab as the injury healed. But the reattached tendon retracted during his recovery and attached to his triceps muscle, which is why he started having issues with his triceps when he started throwing again.
An MRI test revealed the new problem. Doctors removed the tendon from the triceps and attached it in the proper place using a technique first introduced on veteran pitcher Jake Peavy when he was with the White Sox in July 2010.
Peavy missed six months and had a difficult 2011 season before becoming an All-Star in '12. He is still pitching, now with the Red Sox. Pryor and a Minor League hurler are the only pitchers who have had the same surgery since, so this is somewhat new medical ground.
That is why Pryor and the Mariners are being vague on a potential return date, despite the youngster's apparent optimism.
"I mean, I really don't know," Pryor said. "It was just kind of a freak thing. I'm the second Major Leaguer to have this surgery and come back from it, so it's kind of unknown territory. [Peavy] had a complete tear, where I had a partial tear. So there's not really a timetable on it. I'm feeling good, but I think it'd be a stretch to be ready by Opening Day obviously. But hopefully not far beyond that would be a good goal."
The hard-throwing right-hander was a big part of Seattle's bullpen plans a year ago and he threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings in seven appearances before hurting his shoulder in mid-April.
Pryor has been playing catch at 110 feet and doing some light throwing in pickoff and fielding drills, but the real test won't come until he gets on a mound and fires with full force off the incline. The Mariners proceed carefully before giving him the green light to return and he figures he'll need eventually to prove he can throw hard on back-to-back days several times before getting a chance in games.
But whether that potential return comes a month or two, or longer, into the season, the Tennessee native is intent on regaining a role on the team that drafted him the fifth round in 2010.
"I want to pick up where I left off last year," said Pryor, who has a 3-1 record and 2.97 ERA in 33 appearances since being promoted in the middle of the 2012 season. "I felt like early in the season I earned a spot in the 'pen and was able to come in in pressure situations and later in games. I'd like to have that role again. I know it's something I've got to earn, with a new coaching staff, coming off an injury. So time will tell."
Players have McClendon's full attention early
PEORIA, Ariz. -- A common sight early in Mariners camp is new manager Lloyd McClendon pulling hitters aside to offer advice during or after batting practice. After working as the Tigers' hitting coach the past seven seasons, McClendon is not shy about providing insight, and he is finding willing listeners in his new players.
First baseman Justin Smoak was the subject of McClendon's attention Wednesday and said it was eye-opening.
"He grabbed during BP for a couple things, and everything he said made sense," Smoak said. "It was pretty good. You have to respect the fact that he's been with some really good hitters. It's pretty interesting. It's awesome. When somebody wants to help, it's good to hear what he has to say."
Smoak said the skipper suggested some adjustments in his stance that reinforced an approach he was already working on with hitting coach Howard Johnson.
"I was a little wide," Smoak said of his stance, "and he asked me why. He said when he first saw me a couple years ago, I was more narrow, and he liked that better with bigger guys. And it felt good. That's where I was when I first got called up. It's interesting to hear him say that. He remembered, so it was pretty cool. He was on top of it."
McClendon said Smoak, like most hitters, needed to better understand his swing path and get his bat in the strongest position as it comes through the strike zone.
"It's not about muscling up or swinging harder; it's about getting the bat in the proper slot to get it through the zone," McClendon said. "And if you do that, positive things will happen. I think he liked what he felt, and it's something to build on."
McClendon uses Robinson Cano as an illustration of a smart hitter in batting practice who strokes line drive after line drive, not worrying about clearing the fences or impressing anyone.
"One of our challenges is to get our guys to understand how you take batting practice," McClendon said. "For me, hitting home runs in BP means nothing. I want to see the path; I want to see you staying inside the ball. A lot of times, a good swing doesn't mean it even leaves the cage, but the path was there. And that's what I'm trying to get the guys to understand."
And that is exactly what the team's first-year skipper is doing in his one-on-one conversations around the cage.
"I speak individually, because each hitter is an individual," McClendon said. "The way you address it is to simply tell them. If you don't like what you see, tell them. And HoJo and I talk about it, and he's working with guys on certain things. But it's part of the process. We have to change. It hasn't been working. It's about wins, not developing. You have to change, you have to make adjustments."
Mariners focus on timing in first live BP
PEORIA, Ariz. -- After more than a week of having pitchers throw bullpen sessions without hitters in the box, the Mariners on Thursday began live batting practice, to predictable results.
With hitters just getting their timing down, the first few days of live BP usually result in few swings at the plate and more of a focus on tracking pitches. But some of the Mariners, particularly the younger players, took their hacks as 13 pitchers got their first live mound work.
"It's more for the pitchers," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I tell the guys, look, sometimes tracking is just as good as swinging. Obviously when you're seeing live pitching for the first time, it can be a little tough.
"I think you see veteran guys do more tracking. The younger kids are more gung-ho, and they go after it a little more. But it's tough. There's no adrenaline. They deal with it the best they can, do some tracking, get the feet down, make sure the hands are in good position."
But some hitters did jump right in and start swinging, while others like outfielder Michael Saunders unleashed a couple of selective cuts.
"I took a few swings today," Saunders said. "That's the only way for me to know where my timing's at. I get a feel for where the pitcher is, and if he's around the zone, then I'm more comfortable taking a few hacks and seeing where I'm at. I have to start somewhere and I can adjust from there."
Several returning pitchers -- Tom Wilhelmsen, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan and Lucas Luetge -- were among Thursday's group, which also included several non-roster invitees. The rest of the staff, except for Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker, will throw Friday.
Hernandez and Walker are on a slightly slower schedule, and both on Thursday threw their second bullpen sessions of the spring.
"They both felt great," McClendon said.
• Hall of Famer and former Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent was a camp visitor Thursday and chatted with McClendon.
"It was great," said McClendon, who played running back in high school while growing up in Indiana. "He talked baseball, and I talked football. I told him what a heckuva football player I was, and he told me what a heckuva baseball player he was. So we told a lot of lies."
• While nobody from Seattle will complain about 72-degree weather, the practice-time Peoria temperature Thursday dipped below 80 for the first time since the Mariners pitchers and catchers reported eight days earlier. More distracting was a brisk wind that made life adventurous for the outfielders as they were put through some difficult high pop-up drills by new outfield coach Andy Van Slyke.
"They took advantage of the wind today," outfielder Saunders said with a grin. "We knew they would. As soon as we saw the wind when we were stretching, we knew they'd be shooting us high fly balls. That was fun. The difficulty level was a 10 today for the drills. We had some fun though."
• Although all players with less than three years of Major League service time are automatically under contract, they do have to come to terms on an exact dollar figure before March 11. The Mariners had 27 players on their 40-man roster in that situation until eight of them agreed to terms Thursday -- pitchers Logan Bawcom, Anthony Fernandez and James Paxton, catcher Mike Zunino, infielders Nick Franklin and Kyle Seager and outfielders Julio Morban and Stefen Romero.