Will prized pitching prospect Taijuan Walker be ready when the regular season starts? Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon remains hopeful, but there seems to be some doubt.
“I’m not that concerned as we speak,” McClendon said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next week, but we’ll see. I think it’s just a matter of building him (in his endurance) from the shoulder (soreness).”
The right-hander threw long toss Wednesday in his ongoing effort to build shoulder strength. He hasn’t thrown from a mound since Feb. 20 but insists he’s fine.
Before camp, McClendon said he would be disappointed if Walker wasn’t in the rotation when the season started.
“We’ll see where he is in the next couple of days,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, we’ll get him into bullpen (workouts) and building toward getting him back on the mound. ... Obviously, he’s a little bit behind.”
Competition ramps up Thursday for the three available rotation slots behind All-Star right-handers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma when the Mariners open their 33-game Cactus League schedule.
Though early outings aren’t likely to be conclusive, they will matter.
“You want them to be able to command the strike zone,” McClendon said. “I caution guys: You’re not going to make the club on your first one or two outings. Be smart about how you go about your business.
“We have to be careful with our evaluations early on. But when you’re in the position we’re in, performance counts.”
Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan are each slotted for two innings in Thursday’s annual charity game against the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium. The game starts at 12:05 p.m. PST and can be heard on 710-AM.
Tentative plans for rotation candidates are set through March 8:
James Paxton on Friday; Scott Baker on Saturday; Randy Wolf on Sunday; and Ramirez and Beavan in split-squad games Monday.
Hernandez is scheduled for his spring debut Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Peoria, then Paxton on March 5, Baker on March 6, Wolf on March 7, and Ramirez and Beavan again in split-squad games March 8.
McClendon cautioned against reading too much into the early spring order.
“We’re just trying to line them up, get them in there and give them opportunities,” he said. “There’s no reasoning behind that (order). As we move forward, we’ll start shaping it up.”
McClendon said he wants his starters to be conditioned for 115-120 pitches when the season starts.
The Mariners’ farm system ranks 17th among the 30 clubs in Baseball Prospectus’ annual assessment. It ranked fifth a year ago, but Baseball Prospectus attributed much of the decline to players advancing to the big leagues.
Looking ahead to 2015, Baseball Prospectus says: “The Mariners are going to lose Walker and Paxton to the majors, but the system should hold steady thanks to expected developmental progress from DJ Peterson and A-Ball arms Edwin Diaz, Luiz Gohara and Victor Diaz.”
The bid by Mariners fans to turn Hernandez into the “Face of MLB” through balloting in a Twitter tournament pool ended in a semifinal loss to New York Mets third baseman David Wright.
Hernandez took an overnight lead in the balloting before Wright rallied Wednesday ahead of the 5 a.m. PST deadline.
Wright finished with 53 percent of the vote and will meet Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista or Oakland Athletics second baseman Eric Sogard in the finals.
VOICE FROM THE PAST
It seems as though infielder Chone Figgins is still coming to grips with being a $38 million flop with the Mariners. He’s trying to win a job this spring with the Dodgers after sitting out all of last season.
Figgins told the Los Angeles Times: “It kind of says it all when you have just signed a $38 million contract (for four years as a free agent before the 2010 season), and they pinch hit for you in the fourth game.”
Well, that’s mostly true.
It was actually the sixth game of the 2010 season. The Mariners trailed at Texas, 3-2, with runners at first and third with one out in the ninth inning when then-Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu went to the bench.
Ken Griffey Jr. batted for Figgins against Rangers closer Frank Francisco and lined a tying single to left-center field. Franklin Gutierrez followed by grounding an RBI single to left for a 4-3 lead.
David Aardsma closed out the victory with a scoreless inning.
So, yes, Figgins was citing a Seattle victory — rare enough during his time there — as the indicative moment of a three-year Mariners career in which he averaged .227 (batting), .302 (on base) and .283 (slugging).
VEGAS SAYS ...
The over/under line for Mariners’ victories is
81.5 in odds posted by Bovada.lv, an online gaming service. That ranks fourth in the five-team American League West.
Oakland’s over/under is 88.5 in Bovada’s odds, followed by the Los Angeles Angels and Texas at 86.5. The Houston Astros rank last at 62.5.
Iwakuma believes he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand. At his request, his next examination was moved up three days to Friday. ... Hernandez threw roughly 10 minutes in simulated game conditions against minor leaguers as a tuneup for his Cactus League debut. ... Right-hander Brandon Maurer reports his back is feeling better. He was scratched earlier this week from a mound session because of tightness. ... McClendon said he wouldn’t make the lineup for Thursday’s opener available until the morning of the game.