By John Boyle
With the Mariners back home after losing six straight on the road, the most notable change to the lineups sees Dustin Ackley moving up to the No. 2 spot in the order, with Brad Miller dropping to the No. 9 hole.
“We’ve been playing with the lineup the last three or four days trying to get a little more production, see how things fall out,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon explained. “Hopefully he’ll give us spark.”
As for what he sees in Ackley, whose .279 batting average ranks second on the team to Mike Zunino’s .283, McClendon said, “Well he’s one of the guys with a good average. He’s driven in a few runs, he’s had some productive at-bats. He had a great at bat yesterday, the shortstop made a hell of a play that was a game-changer in that game, so I’m just trying to get our hot bats up front, put some speed up front and see what we can do.”
On James Paxton, who has been out since suffering a strained lat in the Mariners’ home opener, McClendon said, “He’s coming along just fine. His workouts are coming along fine. Hopefully he’ll continue to progress and be on schedule with that six-to-eight week program.”
Asked to clarify if six-to-eight weeks meant the timeline to be back in the rotation, McClendon said, “We’ll see, six to eight weeks he should be healthy and ready to pitch again, whether or not he’s in the rotation, I don’t know.
McClendon did clarify that that timeline was retroactive to the injury in early April, not six-to-eight weeks from now.
And speaking of promising young pitchers on the disabled list, McClendon said of Taijuan Walker, “He’s feeling better. I think he’s meeting with the doctor on Wednesday, and if all goes well he should be able to start playing catch.”
Walker, who was held out of a rehab start in Tacoma last week because of tightness in his shoulder, said, “I’ve been feeling much better the past couple of days, much better.”
He isn’t throwing yet, but hopes to by late in the week if things check out when he see’s the doctor Wednesday.
On the frustration of having this setback when he looked close to returning to the lineup, Walker said, “I was feeling really good, coming off a pretty good start, everything was feeling good, all my pitches were feeling great, then I woke up and it just wasn’t feeling right, wasn’t feeling normal. I didn’t want to go out and push anything. I probably could have pitched, but it wouldn’t have been the smart thing to do.”
Walker said the tightness in his shoulder is in “About the same spot,” as what set him back in spring training. And despite another setback, Walker was relieved to hear “it was just inflammation, so I’m definitely relieved about that. I’m just happy to move forward and just kind of let this thing rest and get going again.”
Asked why his team is struggling in the late innings—the Mariners have been outscored 16-0 in the 8th inning this season, and 27-14 after the seventh inning—McClendon didn’t have a good explanation for the lack of offense, but on the pitching side, he says the bullpen has been overworked.
“It’s just been over-taxed,” he said. “I think our bullpen is the backbone of this ballclub, but at the rate that they’ve been asked to go out there and perform, it just won’t work. We’ve got to get some quality innings from our starters.”
The good news for the Mariners and their taxed bullpen is that Felix Hernandez is on the mound today. Of course McClendon knows it would be unreasonable to expect a complete game out of Hernandez; he has realistic expectations: “Would I like a complete game tonight? Yeah. But 8 2/3 would perfect too.”
Finally, from a big-picture standpoint, McClendon said his team isn’t panicking or pressing despite losing six straight on the road.
“They understand,” he said. “We had a good talk in Miami. I told them, ‘Just relax. One thing about it, when you play well, you’ll be great, when you play bad, I’ll be horse(expletive), that’s just the way it is. I’m a big boy, I can take it, and right now, it’s on me. I didn’t prepare them the way they should have been prepared. We had a horse(expletive) road trip—I forgot we were on TV, I’m sorry, we had a bad road trip—we’ll get it back together. This team is going to be fine.”