Is Walker ready to rejoin rotation? Mariners to decide by Saturday

Staff writerApril 11, 2014 

Mariners Spring Baseball

Seattle Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker throws in a bullpen session during spring training baseball practice, Thursday Feb. 20, 2014, in Peoria, Ariz.

TONY GUTIERREZ — AP

Is Taijuan Walker sufficiently recovered from a sore shoulder to handle the demands of a major league rotation? That’s what the Mariners have been discussing in determining a replacement for the injured James Paxton.

The answer, Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said, should be known “within the next 24 hours.”

The Mariners need a starter for Tuesday night in Texas after shifting veteran right-hander Chris Young into Paxton’s regular slot for Sunday’s finale against the Oakland A’s at Safeco Field

The choice appears to be between Walker and Blake Beavan, although McClendon did not rule out (nor identify) other possibilities. More specifically, the choice seems to hinge on Walker’s readiness.

“We want to be cautious with Taijuan,” McClendon said. “We’ve got to make sure he’s ready to compete at this level. … The number of pitches that you throw and the outs that you get are going to be harder at this level.

“We have to take all of that into account when we decide whether or not we’re going to bring him (up) or somebody else. We’re still talking about all of that.”

Walker was shut down from throwing for a week in early March because of bursitis in his right shoulder. He said he has been “pain free” since returning and has made two rehab starts.

“I feel like I’m ready now, but that’s not up to me,” Walker said Wednesday after striking out 10 in five scoreless innings for Double-A Jackson in a 4-2 victory over Mississippi.

“My arm has been feeling really good. Right now, it’s in their hands. I can’t really control that. So I’m just going to keep pitching until they call me up.”

Like Walker, Beavan started Wednesday with Tacoma, which means he would be fully rested for a Tuesday start against the Rangers. Beavan is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts for the Rainiers.

“He threw the ball extremely well,” McClendon said. “He’d certainly be in the mix, also.”

IWAKUMA’S TIMETABLE

It isn’t just Walker. Club officials are also taking a cautious approach with All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who is scheduled to throw Saturday from a bullpen mound in his ongoing recovery from a finger injury.

“His first bullpen session (Wednesday) went very well,” McClendon said, “(but) he’s a couple of bullpen sessions away (from facing hitters). We’ve got to build the pitches up before we get him out there doing that.”

That suggests Iwakuma is at least 10 days away from departing on a minor league rehab assignment. He was diagnosed in early February with a strained ligament in his middle finger.

Iwakuma reports no problems with his finger since starting his throwing program, but Saturday offers a test: He is expected to throw split-finger fastballs, his best pitch, for the first time since getting hurt.

PAXTON’S TREATMENT

Plans call for Paxton not to throw for at least a week after getting a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection to treat his strained back muscle.

Paxton suffered the injury in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over the Angels.

PRP injections seek to stimulate healing of bone and soft tissue.

Paxton won his two starts this season and his 1.75 ERA through six career starts is the best in club history. Paxton passed Felix Hernandez, who had a 1.84 ERA in 2005.

PAID TO PROTECT

Few players are more familiar than Corey Hart with the role of providing lineup protection for one of the game’s top hitters — as he is currently does for Robinson Cano.

“That’s kind of been there my whole career,” said Hart, who had two homers and four RBIs in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over the Angels. “I’ve been behind (Prince) Fielder and (Ryan) Braun and (before that) Carlos Lee.

“I wasn’t always right behind them, but I was the guy behind the other guy.”

That’s where Hart typic

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