By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Taijuan Walker’s 2013 season came to an end on Monday night when he made his final start of the year, pitching five innings and giving up two runs in a 6-4 loss to the Houston Astros.
He finished his three-start stint with the Mariners, going 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA and striking out 12 batters in 15 innings pitched.
“It was a short period of time, but I was very impressed with him,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “To get all those firsts out of the way and do it like he did it, which was in a very fine fashion, was big.”
Walker was shut down because he threw a career high 156 1/3 innings this season with Class AAA Tacoma and the Mariners. His previous high was 126 2/3 last season.
But just because he is done pitching, it doesn’t mean Walker will be heading home to Arizona. He will be staying with the team and continuing to work out and be a spectator in the dugout. Wedge wants Walker to watch and learn from his teammates, while being a teammate.
“He’s going to watch a lot of baseball,” Wedge said. “Everything now is about preparing for next year. I think it’s a good thing to watch big-league baseball and watch his teammates compete and feel good about his year.”
The watching is fine. Not pitching is tough.
“I’ve been shut down before,” he said. “It wasn’t fun watching everyone go out and pitch and not getting to.”
Still, Walker should feel good about this year. His success in the minor leagues earned him a stint in the big leagues. And his success at the big-league level should earn him a better chance at making the Mariners’ opening-day rotation in 2014.
“No doubt about it,” Wedge said. “He most definitely should be. He should come in here next year and work to make this ball club. He should definitely feel that way.”
It’s one of the reasons why the Mariners called him up in September. They want to eliminate some of the unknowns about pitching at the highest level for Walker before he entered the rotation on a full-time basis.
“He has a pretty good idea of how it works now,” Wedge said.
And Walker already has a pretty good idea of the things he wants to work on in the offseason to be ready for spring training.
“I need to work on my breaking ball in the offseason,” Walker said. “I just have to go in the offseason and work hard and wait till next year.”
Ibanez or Saunders?
To the frustration of some Mariners fans, Raul Ibanez was starting in left field on Tuesday. While Ibanez is beloved for his contributions to the organization in three different stints, many fans are complaining that Michael Saunders should be getting the bulk of the remaining playing time. At age 41, Ibanez obviously isn’t part of the long-term plans, while Saunders, who is 26, does figure in those plans in some way.
But Wedge is going to play who he wants in the final games.
“I have a group over here that says I should play him more and I have a group over there saying I should play him less because of the younger kids,” Wedge said. “For me, it’s all about the respect that he’s earned. It is about the length of the season. I’m trying to walk that line to play him as much as I can, but also understand it’s important to get the young kids in as much as we can too.”
The tentative 2014 schedule was released for the Mariners. Seattle will open the season March 31 in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels. The Mariners home opener is on April 8, also against the Angels … The Little League champions in baseball and girls fast-pitch softball threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game. Both teams are from Eastlake. The Eastlake Little League’s All-Star baseball team finished third in the U.S. bracket in Williamsport, Penn. The collection of 11- and 12-year-olds swarmed Taijuan Walker before the game for autographs. Having recently turned 21, Walker is just nine years older than some of the kids.