By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — Put an asterisk next to Chris Young’s name in listing the next cycle through the Seattle Mariners’ rotation.
Manager Lloyd McClendon declined to commit to Young as a starter for Saturday’s game at Texas after a second straight poor outing in Monday’s 6-1 loss to Oakland.
The concern is that Young, after 151 innings in a career-resurrection season, might be hitting a wall just as the Mariners are mounting a push to try to end a 12-year postseason drought.
“He threw seven starts in the minor leagues last year,” McClendon said. “He’s in uncharted territory. I’ve got to watch him. I’ve got to evaluate him. I’ve got to make a decision.”
If Young is deemed to be a poor risk, McClendon acknowledged right-hander Taijuan Walker as a likely replacement. Walker limited the A’s to one run in six innings Monday in mop-up duty behind Young.
Walker’s performance came on the day he was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma and after he got a “show me” challenge from McClendon.
“Obviously, he pitched extremely well,” McClendon said. “I think it showed you what he’s capable of. We’ve just got to get him to the point where he can be consistent every time out with that.
Young has provided the Mariners with an unexpected boost this season by going 12-7 with a 3.46 ERA, but he’s 35 and hasn’t pitched more than 115 innings since 2007 because of shoulder issues.
Further, his last two starts have been his worst: a combined eight runs, 11 hits and seven walks over 41/3 innings.
“Every pitcher goes through a period during the season,” Young said, “when they don’t throw the ball as well (as usual). Mine is right now. I’m going to get through it, keep working, and I’m going to finish strong.”
He passed that message to McClendon when the two talked after Monday’s game. McClendon remains unconvinced.
“What concerns me is command because he’s not a power guy,” McClendon said. “When he starts to lose command, I’m a little concerned about it.
“He assured me that he felt healthy, and I assured him that I would do what I thought was best for this club. I’m going to evaluate in the next day or two, and make a decision.”
Those evaluations will come through Young’s regular between-starts bullpen workout and other on-field activities.
“If I deem him 100 percent healthy,” McClendon said, “he’ll start.”
If not, it figures to be Walker.
Walker acknowledged he needs to”step up” in response to McClendon’s tough-love approach.
“My three (previous) outings in the big leagues weren’t very good,” he said. “But my last four down in Triple-A were very good, and I’ve been throwing the ball well.”
Walker, at 22, remains the most-heralded prospect in the Mariners’ organization because of his high-octane potential. But he’s closing out a tough year that began when shoulder soreness surfaced in spring training.
After three months of stop-and-start lurching through rehab, Walker returned to make three big-league starts wrapped roughly around the All-Star break.
His overall numbers weren’t terrible — six runs in 15 innings — but his command issues (13 walks) convinced the Mariners that a remedial tour in the minors was necessary.
Walker struggled through his first two starts at Tacoma before sharpening his game: He worked at least six innings in his last four starts while allowing 10 runs in 25 innings.
“I just kept everything simple,” he said. “Something just clicked, and it’s just kind of been right. I’ve just been keeping everything the same.”
More important, perhaps, Walker showed renewed power and better command in those four starts: 35 strikeouts and eight walks, which earned him a September recall to the big leagues.
That recall came accompanied by McClendon’s pointed challenge. A day later, McClendon reinforced his demand.
“I don’t expect him to act like a 22-year-old,” he said. “I expect him to act like a 30-year-old. I expect him to perform like a veteran. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”