Opportunity knocks to fill empty spots in Mariners' rotation

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comMarch 4, 2014 

PEORIA, Ariz. — The second round of “opportunity” pitching starts began Monday for the Seattle Mariners in their quest to patch together a rotation until Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker are ready.

Not that anyone seems to want to view it as an opportunity.

“I don’t know how that would benefit in any sort of way,” said Scott Baker, a right-hander who once fronted Minnesota’s staff and who is now nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery.

“It’s hard enough as it is to focus on myself getting ready. To concern myself with what other guys are experiencing right now seems counterproductive.”

Neither Iwakuma nor Walker are expected to be ready for the rotation before mid-April. (It could be later.) That leaves the Mariners with four openings behind ace Felix Hernandez.

Iwakuma is still two-plus weeks away from picking up a ball as he recovers from a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand.

Walker could begin throwing by the weekend, but he will be closely monitored after being shut down Friday for a week because of shoulder inflammation.

Those spring innings are now going to others.

“I felt with everybody being healthy,” veteran left-hander Randy Wolf argued, “I still had an opportunity (to win a spot in the rotation). I don’t feel like I should gain by anyone else’s misfortune.”

Wolf, 37, is recovering from the second Tommy John surgery in his 14-year career. His two scoreless innings in a Sunday start against Cleveland marked his first game action since Sept. 22, 2012.

“I feel that when I’m healthy,” Wolf said, “I’m an average to above-average major league pitcher. Obviously, when I’m not healthy, I’ve been horrible. And I admit that.

“I really feel that the way I’ve prepared over the last 15 months, if this (elbow) ligament holds up, I can pitch in the big leagues and really help a team.”

Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan each drew starts Monday in a split-squad doubleheader. Each worked two scoreless innings in Thursday’s spring opener against San Diego.

Ramirez pitched two more scoreless innings against Cincinnati in Goodyear, Ariz., before three Seattle errors fueled a four-run third. His final line showed one earned run in 22/3 innings.

The Mariners then rallied for a 6-5 victory over the Reds behind a Chris Taylor grand slam.

At Peoria Stadium, Beavan yielded one run in three innings in an 8-1 victory over Colorado.

“I think there’s been opportunities here the last couple of years,” Beavan said. “We’re still all buddies, but when we get on the mound, it’s time to go after them and compete.”

After Hernandez makes his spring debut Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers in nearby Glendale, the Mariners will then get a second look Wednesday at their other big pitching prospect: lefty James Paxton.

After that, it’s Baker and Wolf for their second starts. McClendon also said right-hander Brandon Maurer, slowed recently by back tightness, will make his spring debut Wednesday in a piggyback start behind Paxton.

“I saw (Maurer) live against us in Detroit last year,” said McClendon, who spent the previous eight years as bullpen and hitting coach with the Detroit Tigers. “His stuff was tremendous. Plus fastball. Plus slider.”

First, though, Paxton is slotted for two or three innings when Seattle meets Cleveland in Peoria. He retired all six hitters in two innings Friday against the Padres.

“I’m trying to pick up where I left off last year,” said Paxton, who yielded just four earned runs over 24 innings in four starts in 2013 after a Sept. 7 promotion from Triple-A Tacoma.

“I’m really just focusing on executing pitches right now; try to get everything refined so it’s ready for game time when the season rolls around.”

Paxton, too, tries not to think about the circumstances surrounding Iwakuma and Walker — and how it might affect his chance to win a spot in the rotation.

“Those guys may be back quickly,” Paxton said, “but you can’t really worry about that. … I’m just focused on going out there and taking it one game at a time. And whatever happens, happens.”

That’s called opportunity. For the next four weeks.




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