PEORIA, Ariz. — The Taijuan Walker recovery program went private Thursday morning to avoid morphing into what Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon feared might become “a sideshow.”
All went well, apparently, in the no-media session.
“I have a big smile on my face,” Walker reported when he returned from the 25-pitch workout. “It felt good. I did get after it. About the last 10 (pitches) or so, I got after it, and it felt really good.”
That represents a major step for Walker, barring any overnight setbacks, in his recovery from bursitis in his right shoulder. This was his first time back on a mound since a one-week shutdown imposed on Feb. 28.
Prior to Thursday, he threw only from flat ground, initially mere simple rounds of catch before stretching out to long toss. Having passed those tests without renewed problems, he gained clearance to return to the mound. “Your mentality changes,” Walker said. “You kind of get into a game mode when you’re on the mound. You always want to throw strikes whether there’s a batter in there or not. You want to work on pitches.
“You want to have that game-ready face and that game mentality because you want to take what you do on the mound into the game. You want to make sure you go out there for bullpens like you throw in a game.”
The media ban, McClendon suggested, was an effort to keep the bullpen workout in perspective. Even if all goes well, Walker is unlikely to be ready for regular duty before mid-to-late April.
“Definitely, the sooner the better,” Walker said. “I’ve just got to listen to those guys in the training room. Whatever they say goes pretty much.”
The message Thursday was to keep it low-key; free and easy. “I just want him to get his regular work in,” McClendon said. “He’s doing fine. I understand the inquiries about him and wondering about his health. But he’s fine. He needs to just go back to being one of the regular guys.”
Walker, at 21, is generally viewed as the organization’s top prospect and loomed as a likely candidate to open the season in the rotation after making his big-league debut last season with three starts.
His sore shoulder, which club officials initially minimized, and his ensuing recovery have been one of the top topics in camp. “TV cameras and reporters in there for his bullpen session,” McClendon said, “he doesn’t need that right now. He just needs to get back in his groove. So we’ll divert you guys (to) other places.”
Walker shrugged off the precaution.
“The media is always going to be there,” he said. “I just want to go out there and pitch and feel normal again. I want to feel I can throw the ball without any pain or any soreness.”
Walker’s private showing consisted of 25 pitches, all fastballs. If no problems arise, he’ll play catch Friday and return to the mound this weekend for a 40-pitch workout that should include some breaking balls.
“Today, I just wanted to go out there and get the feel for it,” he said. “It feels like my first regular bullpen (in spring training) when I felt good. I’m excited. It kind of feels like I just got here.”