SEATTLE — The Mariners will carry 12 position players and 13 pitchers into their three-game series against the Houston Astros after optioning outfielder Stefen Romero to Class AAA Tacoma on Sunday afternoon.
The move was made to accommodate the 25-man roster addition of right-hander Taijuan Walker, who is scheduled to be activated Monday from the disabled list so he can make his 2014 debut against the Astros.
Walker, the Mariners’ top pitching prospect, has been on the 15-day disabled list since March 21 with shoulder soreness. He’s been through the rehabilitation process twice now — the first time, he was set to make a rehab start for Tacoma in mid-April before being scratched due to what the club later termed a shoulder impingement.
But he’s healthy now, fresh off six starts in Tacoma, and manager Lloyd McClendon said “it just makes sense” to finally get him into the Mariners’ starting rotation.
McClendon rattled off a few impressive statistics from Walker’s most recent rehab work — “10 strikeouts per nine, less than two walks per nine innings” — and said the right-hander will pitch without limitations, “other than the fact he’s a young kid and we’ll treat him like most of our other young starters and take care of him.”
“I don’t know what my expectations are,” McClendon said. “I’ve read and I’ve heard all the accolades. Saw a little bit of film. Haven’t seen him in competition. We’ll see. Hopefully he goes out and gives us five or six good innings and we’ll take it from there.”
Romero started in right field in Sunday’s 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians. He went 0-for-3, and is now batting .200 with three home runs in 145 at-bats this season.
McClendon praises Maurer
Perhaps one of the reasons the Mariners chose to send down a position player instead of a pitcher to make room for Walker is the mini-resurgence of Brandon Maurer, whose success out of the bullpen since being recalled last week has been somewhat of a revelation.
After he was mostly roughed up as a starter, Maurer appears to have found — or is at least finding — a niche as a relief pitcher now that he’s back in the bigs.
That’s what McClendon said Sunday morning, anyway. In two relief appearances since being recalled from Tacoma, Maurer has pitched three scoreless innings while allowing just one hit and striking out six batters. Which is a positive change of pace from the 1-4 record and 7.52 ERA he posted through seven starts with Seattle before being optioned to Tacoma in late May.
“I think he’s found his niche a little bit,” McClendon said. “He’s very comfortable doing that. He doesn’t have to process a lot of things other than throw the ball. Whatever the catcher puts down, just throw the ball. It’s worked. We’ll see.”
Cano shakes slump
OK, so the slump probably seemed worse than it was because it’s Robinson Cano. But the Mariners’ All-Star second baseman did enter Sunday’s game with just three hits in his previous 27 at-bats, and that counts as a surprise for a guy who earlier this season reached base safely in 31 consecutive games.
Cano responded by going 2-for-4 against the Indians on Sunday, including a two-run homer to right field in the sixth inning that gave Seattle the lead. He also scored the Mariners’ third run in the eighth.
That homer was preceded by a pitch from Cleveland starter T.J. House that zoomed just past Cano’s cranium, a circumstance with which Cano was not pleased. That was a sentiment felt, too, by the fans who booed House for throwing so close to the Mariners’ most prized batter.
Two pitches later, Cano cranked his fifth homer of the season into the right-field seats, taking a few slow steps out of the batter’s box before beginning his trot.
“Any time you see a ball close to your face or head, that’s the last thing you want to happen,” said Cano, who is now batting .319. “Not only that, the last two weeks I’ve been seeing that a lot.”
As for that “slump,” McClendon said he wants Cano to become more content with walks, and not try to swing at pitches too far out of the strike zone.
“This is the second time we’ve had this conversation this year and hopefully we don’t have it again,” McClendon said. “But he has to take his walks. Nobody can go outside the strike zone and hit other than Vlad Guerrero.”
Paxton working back
McClendon said left-hander James Paxton, who is recovering from a strained back muscle, will throw another bullpen session on Monday in Houston. He threw a 25-pitch bullpen on Friday and said afterward he felt fine. McClendon said Paxton is likely another bullpen or two away from throwing a simulated game.
The Mariners travel to Houston for a three-game series against the Astros beginning Monday. In the opener, Walker is scheduled to make his 2014 debut, and right-hander Colin McHugh (4-6, 2.86 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for Houston.