ANAHEIM, Calif. — While rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker has logged just 3 1/3 innings in two relief outings since Sept. 1, he won’t be on any pitch limits Friday when he returns to the Mariners’ rotation at Houston.
“No restrictions whatsoever,” manager Lloyd McClendon said prior to Thursday’s series finale against the Angels.
So Walker, if he’s pitching well, is good for 100 pitches in his first start since Aug. 25 for Triple-A Tacoma against Iowa?
“If he’s pitching well,” McClendon said, “he will.”
Walker, 22, is returning to the rotation as a replacement for injured Roenis Elias, who left Tuesday’s start against the Angels in the fourth inning because of a sore elbow.
McClendon inserted Walker into the rotation on Friday, instead of waiting for Elias’ turn to come around Sunday, because it offered an opportunity to provide Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma with an extra day of rest.
“Pushing them back and keeping them fresh,” McClendon said. “They need it. They all need it. It’s a grind. (Walker) slots right in, and the other two guys get an extra day. It just makes sense.”
The Mariners sent Walker to Houston on Thursday ahead of the traveling party, which isn’t expected to arrive before 5 a.m. after a night game at Angel Stadium.
Elias’ injury provides Walker with an opportunity to author an upbeat conclusion to an injury-interrupted and generally disappointing season.
Long viewed as the organization’s top prospect, Walker entered spring training projected to win a spot in the rotation. A sore shoulder quickly derailed those plans.
Walker didn’t make his big-league season debut until June 30 — when he beat the Astros in Houston — but didn’t pitch well enough overall to hold a spot in the rotation.
That resulted in a demotion to Tacoma, where he had six inconsistent starts prior to his Sept. 1 recall by the Mariners. Since returning, he has allowed two runs and 10 hits over 9 1/3 innings in three relief outings.
“This has been a tough year for him in a lot of different ways,” McClendon said, “but I think he’s starting to grow up a little bit from a mental standpoint. He’s starting to ‘get it,’ so to speak.
“This is good for him … Sometimes, young players can believe the hype that (the media) throws on them, and it can get in the way of their development.
“I think he’s finally at the point where he’s putting that aside. He’s going out and concentrating on what’s going to make him better. That’s healthy progression, healthy growth, from a pitching standpoint.”
With Walker starting Friday against Houston, the Mariners’ revised rotation sets up this way for the season’s remaining 10 games:
—Friday through Sunday at Houston: Walker, Young and Iwakuma.
—Monday through Thursday at Toronto: James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Walker and Young.
—Sept. 26-28 vs. Angels at Safeco Field: Iwakuma, Paxton and Hernandez.
It’s not unusual for a club, the day after clinching a division title, to send out a lineup the following day that is loaded with reserves and September call-ups.
The Angels sure did for Thursday’s series finale.
Manager Mike Scioscia pulled his ace, right-hander Jered Weaver (17-8, 3.50 ERA), and started left-hander Wade LeBlanc, who was 0-1 with a 6.19 ERA in seven games.
LeBlanc, 30, spent much of the season at Triple-A Salt Lake, where he was 10-4 with a 4.43 ERA in 22 starts. That included 3-0 with a 2.23 ERA in three starts against Tacoma.
The Angels’ lineup consisted of only three players who had more the 140 at-bats this season: shortstop Gordon Beckham (423), catcher Hank Conger (222) and DH C.J. Cron (220).
All be 33 of Beckham’s at-bats came with the White Sox prior to arriving in an Aug. 21 trade for cash or a player to be named later.
Somewhat lost in the rubble of the Mariners’ seventh-inning collapse Wednesday was James Paxton’s ongoing streak of not allowing an extra-base hit.
Paxton permitted four singles over 62/3 innings in the 5-0 loss to the Angels, which stretched his streak to 138 consecutive batters without permitting an extra-base hit.
The streak dates to Jimmy Rollins’ one-out double in the second inning on Aug. 20 in Philadelphia.
Paxton tied a club record, set by Jim Beattie in 1982, of making five straight starts without allowing an extra-base hit.
Beattie stretched his streak to a club-record 157 batters before it ended. Paxton’s mark is the second-longest in club history. Mark Langston had a 125-batter streak in 1988, while Felix Hernandez had 124 in 2012.
Paxton’s streak is the longest active streak in the majors, and the second-longest streak of the season. Kansas City reliever Wade Davis had a 178-batter streak from the start of the season until July 30.
Rookie pitcher Roenis Elias flew back Thursday to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam on his left elbow. The injury, which forced Elias to exit Tuesday’s game in the fourth inning, is tentatively characterized by club officials as “flexor bundle tightness.” … Catcher Mike Zunino has been hit 17 times by pitches, which leads the American League. The club record is 19 by Jose Guillen in 2007. … The Mariners have been shut out a franchise-record 18 times. They have also thrown nine shutouts. That means they’ve been involved in 27 games that were shutouts, which is also a franchise record. The previous record was 26 in 2011.
It was 13 years ago Friday — Sept. 19, 2001 — that the Mariners turned their post-game celebration of clinching the American League West crown into one of the iconic moments in franchise history.
After a 5-0 victory over Anaheim, manager Lou Piniella and the players emerged from the dugout to a cheering sellout crowd at Safeco Field armed with an American flag.
They offered a brief prayer in remembrance of the victims of terrorist attacks that occurred eight days earlier.
The Mariners continue their 11-game, three-city trip at 5:10 p.m. Pacific time Friday by opening a three-game weekend series against the Astros in at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker (1-2 with a 2.96 ERA) will make his first big-league start since July 23 when he faces Astros right-hander Brad Peacock (4-8, 4.80).
Root Sports will televise the game.
Walker’s only victory this season came June 30 against the Astros when he gave up three runs over six innings in a 10-4 romp at Minute Maid Park. His only other career victory came in 2013 against the Astros at Minute Maid.