By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — A chill rippled through the Mariners’ newly renovated spring complex Thursday morning when manager Lloyd McClendon revealed prize pitching prospect Taijuan Walker is less than 100 percent.
“It’s nothing major,” McClendon cautioned. “He had a little (shoulder) soreness. He’s stretching out. He’s feeling good. He’s probably a few days behind as far as bullpens are concerned. He should be fine.”
Walker, too, moved quickly to quell concerns.
“I’m fine,” he told the Seattle Times. “I got it checked out. I’m just taking it a little bit slower than everyone else. I’m still playing catch and everything.
“It’s not like they’ve shut me down. I just get some extra treatment. This is just normal soreness.”
Walker took part in all drills in Thursday’s workout and, true enough, arm soreness is not unusual for pitchers (all players, really) early in camp. But any issues surrounding Walker are likely to spark extra caution.
It was only a day earlier the Mariners learned Hisashi Iwakuma, their All-Star right-hander, will miss four to six weeks because of a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand.
And the organization is still dealing with expectations that lefty Danny Hultzen, another top prospect, will miss the entire season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.
So Walker will be watched closely.
“I tell all of my pitchers that you’re not going to make the club on the first day,” McClendon said. “You’re not going to make the club in the first week. Build yourself. Pace yourself.
“You’ll have opportunities to go out and compete and, hopefully, win a spot.”
Walker, 21, enters camp as a favorite to do just that after making his big-league debut last season by going 1-0 in three starts while allowing six runs and 11 hits in 15 innings.
McClendon reinforced that view last month by saying, “I’d be disappointed if he’s not (in the rotation).”
Even so, he wants to test Walker — a healthy Walker — over the next 61/2 weeks. The same holds true for lefty James Paxton and any of the club’s young arms.
“You talk about evaluating in spring training,” McClendon said. “I think it’s important that you try to put as much intensity as you can into what they’re trying to accomplish. Make it as tough as possible.
“Because when the lights come on, that’s exactly what it is (like). When you try to go through the evaluation process, you want it to be tough for them. You want them to have anxious moments, and you want to see how they handle those moments.”