By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Timelines are a constant topic for Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon lately.
After losing four starting pitchers to injuries in the first three weeks of the season, McClendon is providing daily updates.
Monday, he said left-hander James Paxton (lat strain) was looking at a 6-to-8 week rehabilitation program. That process is retroactive to April 8, when Paxton left the home opener early.
Last week, Taijuan Walker was scratched from his rehabilitation start with the Tacoma Rainiers after experiencing shoulder tightness. Walker said Monday the pain was similar to the pain he felt in spring training. The Mariners decided Walker should take a break from pitching.
He is scheduled to see Dr. Edward Khalfayan on Wednesday. After that, Walker hopes to begin throwing at the end of the week.
“I was feeling really good and came off a pretty good start,” Walker said. “Then I just woke up and it didn’t feel right. Didn’t feel normal. I didn’t want to go out and push things. Probably could have pitched.”
Walker, 21, has consistently gained weight since being selected as a lean 18-year-old in the first round of the 2010 draft. He’s gained 30 pounds in three years and his offseason weight-lifting is a possible contributor to his shoulder inflammation.
“That could have been it,” Walker said. “I was doing some older overhead shoulder workouts, but who knows what it was? Kind of came out of nowhere.”
The loss of Walker, Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Blake Beavan has forced the Mariners to survive on a mix-and-match rotation. Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias went straight from Class AA to the Seattle’s starting rotation. Veteran Chris Young, who had shoulder surgery, made his first start since 2012 earlier in the season. Beavan had one poor outing prior to being placed on the 15-day disabled list. Erasmo Ramirez has been ineffective.
All of which is already beating on the bullpen.
Removing Felix Hernandez from the equation, Seattle starters have pitched 712/3 innings this season. The bullpen has thrown 552/3 going into Monday’s game.
The Mariners have four relievers — Joe Beimel, Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone and Yoervis Medina — on pace to pitch more than 72 innings this season. Three are on pace to pitch more than 81 innings.
“I think our bullpen is the backbone of this ballclub, but at the rate they have been asked to go out and perform, it just won’t work,” McClendon said. “We’ve got to get some quality innings from our starters.”
Ackley bats second
McClendon is also in search of lineup answers.
Left fielder Dustin Ackley was moved up to second in the order. Shortstop Brad Miller was moved down to ninth. Struggling rookie Abraham Almonte (.221 average) remained in the leadoff spot.
Ackley entered Monday as one of the few Mariners hitters hitting well. His .279 average coming into the game was second to Mike Zunino’s .283 average.
“We’ve been playing with the lineup the last three or four days trying to get a little more production,” McClendon said.
Ackley said earlier in the season that he tried to use the same approach no matter where he hit, but that hitting eighth was not “the ultimate goal.” He has been used as a leadoff hitter in the past.
McClendon said he doesn’t think players worry much about where they hit in the lineup.
“I think players care that they’re playing,” McClendon said. “Where you hit, beyond the first time, really doesn’t make a difference.”
Brandon Maurer is expected to make his second start of the season on Sunday. The Mariners’ pitching probables for the homestand look this way: Ramirez today, Young on Wednesday, Elias on Friday, Hernandez on Saturday and Maurer.
The Mariners continue their six-game homestand today with the second of three games against Houston at Safeco Field. Right-hander Ramirez (1-2, 7.50 ERA) will start against Astros right-hander Collin McHugh (making 2014 debut) at 7:10 p.m. Root Sports will broadcast the game.