By John Boyle
With James Paxton on the disabled list, the Mariners are going to need another starting pitcher for Tuesday’s game in Texas.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said nothing has been determined yet, but indicated that Taijuan Walker, who is coming back from shoulder inflammation that set him back in spring training, is a candidate to join the rotation. If not, Blake Beavan, who pitched well in Wednesday’s start with Tacoma, would seem the likely fit, though McClendon wouldn’t say whether or not those two are the only options.
McClendon made it clear that Walker’s return won’t be rushed because of Paxton’s injury. Walker, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, will only join the club if he’s 100 percent ready, McClendon stressed, not because Paxton’s injury created a need.
“On thing we have to be careful about with this process, when we do decide whether or not it’s Walker or somebody else—I said we want to be cautious with Taijuan, and we’ve got to make sure that he’s ready to compete at this level,” McClendon said. “When I talk about competing, the game’s a little bit more stressful at this level than it is at the minor league level… We have to take all of that in account when we decide whether we’re going to bring him up or somebody else. We’re still talking about all of that.”
The concern with bringing Walker up isn’t a lack of experience, it’s just an issue of making sure he’s physically ready having not had a lot of work to build up his arm. Walker’s second rehab start for Double-A Jackson was impressive, with him throwing five shutout innings, giving up just three hits and a walk while striking out 10.
“You’ve got to compete at a high level,” McClendon said. “It can be 80 percent here or 70 percent here, it’s got to be 100 percent all-in.”
And as McClendon notes, Walker won’t be rushed because he is a huge part of the club’s future, or as the manager joked, a player who can “carry me for the next 10 years. Make me smart.”
McClendon said he hopes and he and general manager Jack Zduriencik will be able to come to a decision on Tuesday’s starter by Saturday.
As for Paxton, who left Tuesday’s start with a lat strain, McClendon said the plan is to let him rest another seven or eight days before being re-evaluated and possibly beginning a rehabilitation program.
On starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who is coming back from a finger injury, McClendon said the plan is a 50-pitch bullpen session Saturday: “The first session went very well, he felt great, hopefully he’ll keep progressing as well… He’s a couple bullpens away from live (batters). We’ve got to build the pitches up before we get him out there doing that.”
Outfielder Michael Saunders is sporting a bit of shiner under his eye, the result of a head-first slide into first base Tuesday. In that same game, Angles star Josh Hamilton suffered a thumb injury that will likely keep him out six-to-eight weeks while diving head first into first. McClendon said he isn’t a fan of the move, but admitted that it’s impossible to keep players from ever doing it.
“Listen, we can talk until we’re blue in the face about it,” he said. “We don’t like it, it’s a dangerous play, but it’s an instinctive type of play. Guys who smell a hit, they want to get a hit, and you don’t think about what you’re doing. So you can talk to them all you want about it, but in the end they’re going to be instinctive, and some guys will slide head first.”
Asked about Robinson Cano still searching for his first home run as a Mariner, McClendon said he isn’t worried about his star second baseman.
“I’m not the least bit concerned about Robbie’s first home run,” he said. “They’ll be there. When it’s all said and done, his numbers will be right where they’re supposed to be.
“That’s a great question, probably one we need to address so I don’t have to have that question anymore. Robinson Cano is one of the top, arguably five best hitters in baseball, has been for the last nine years, and that’s not going to change just because he put on a Seattle Mariners uniform. What I’d like to see Robbie do is lead the league in doubles, I don’t worry about home runs. I know the home runs will be there. If I’ve got to worry about Robinson Cano, then I should quit right now.”
When it was pointed out to McClendon that he had earlier said he hoped Justin Smoak would lead the league in doubles, he replied, “Well they can share it. Wouldn’t that be something?”