Branyan working his way back from injury

Branyan almost back from injury

TORONTO -- For the first time since his ailing back sent first baseman Russell Branyan to the disabled list at the end of August, he's back in the swing of things.

He went through pregame batting practice on Thursday and could field some ground balls on Friday night prior to the Mariners' game against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

The organization's medical staff is making sure the 33-year-old slugger takes his time getting back to baseball-related activities, and if he has no ill-effects from the upcoming workouts in Toronto, he could be back in the lineup when the Mariners return home for the final week of the regular season.

"Today is a big test for him and we'll see how he comes out of it," manager Don Wakamatsu said.

Branyan, who leads the team with 31 home runs, was limited to the amount of swings he had on Thursday when he took BP with the reserves. He appeared to swing nice and easy against bench coach Ty Van Burkleo.

Branyan has said that he's on a mission to end the season just the way he started it -- playing first base.

Despite missing the past three weeks, Branyan continues to rank first on the team in home runs, but his lead is dwindling over second-place contender Jose Lopez, who also has played some first base during Branyan's absence.

Lopez hit his 25th home run of the season on Tuesday night against the Rays and is on the verge of becoming just the fifth player in franchise history to hit at least 25 homers and 40 doubles in the same season. He has 38 two-baggers.

Edgar Martinez (three times), Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson are the other 25-40 players in club annals.

This four-game series features the two most proficient second base run producers in the American League. Lopez has 92 RBIs to go along with his 25 home runs and Jays second baseman Aaron Hill has 33 homers and 101 RBIs.

Pitching matchup
SEA: RHP Doug Fister (2-3, 4.37 ERA)
The rookie lacked a high-quality breaking pitch in his start against the Yankees and was KO'd in the fifth inning. That, and a couple of misplaced fastballs, led to his demise during a late-season audition for rotation consideration in 2010. Unless he keeps the ball down around the knees and keeps hitters honest with his slider and curveball, he's at a disadvantage. He figures to have two more starts to head into the offseason feeling good about his chances of being one of the five starters heading into Spring Training. Fister has been most vulnerable between pitches 16-30, allowing a .321 batting average. This will be his first career outing against the Blue Jays, and he is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three road starts.

TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (15-10, 3.01 ERA)
Halladay's season-long woes against the Rays continued on Sunday, when he picked up a loss after allowing just two runs on 10 hits over seven innings. Tampa Bay earned its fourth win of the year against Halladay, becoming the first team ever to chalk up that many wins in a single season against Toronto's ace. Since starting the year 11-3 with a 2.73 ERA, Halladay has gone just 4-7 with a 3.44 ERA over 12 outings. In his 10 losses this year, Halladay has received only 22 runs of support.

Tidbits
The Mariners went into the final road series of the season having won three of the their past four series -- against the Yankees, White Sox and Rangers -- and tying the two-game set against the Rays to begin this trip. ... Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez leads all MLB outfielders in putouts with 419. Former Mariners center fielder Mike Cameron is second with 389. ... Southpaw Erik Bedard will get his left arm out of the sling it has been in since surgery to repair a torn labrum. ... Right-handed reliever Mark Lowe ranks third in the AL with 24 holds.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
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•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN

On radio
• 710 ESPN

Up next
• Saturday: Mariners (Ian Snell, 7-10, 5.03) at Blue Jays (David Purcey, 1-2, 5.31), 10:07 a.m. PT
• Sunday: Mariners (Ryan Rowland-Smith, 4-3, 3.70) at Blue Jays (Brian Tallet, 7-9, 5.39), 10:07 a.m. PT
• Monday: Off-day

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.