Right-hander Taijuan Walker will return Wednesday from a two-start tour at Triple-A Tacoma to start for the Seattle Mariners in their series finale against the New York Mets at Safeco Field.
The Mariners will make a corresponding move before the game to clear roster space for Walker. In all likelihood, right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, who started Tuesday, will be optioned back to the Rainiers.
Walker, 21, has been generally regarded as the organization’s top prospect over the past two years but has spent much of this season battling a sore shoulder that surfaced in spring training.
“I definitely just want to get on a routine and roll with it,” he said. “It kind of sucks being out for a couple weeks, getting back, then shut down again. Back up and down. It would be nice to pitch well, then get back on a roll.”
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The Mariners opted to recall Walker over using long reliever Tom Wilhelmsen for another spot start.
Wilhelmsen worked 22/3 innings in a July 10 spot start against the Minnesota Twins. He pitched four innings of relief Friday in a 16-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, California.
“My bullpen has been taxed,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It still intrigues me about Wilhelmsen (possibly shifting to the rotation at some point in the future). We just can’t do it right now.”
McClendon pointed to using his bullpen for 201/3 innings over the four games since the All-Star break. The Mariners returned from the break by playing 16 and 12 innings in their first two games in Anaheim.
“The Anaheim series was just too grueling for us,” McClendon said. “We’ve got to back off a little bit.”
The Mariners recalled Ramirez from Tacoma before Tuesday’s game. They cleared roster space by optioning first baseman Justin Smoak to the Rainiers.
Walker was 1-1 while allowing four runs and seven hits in 10 innings over two starts just before the All-Star Game. The Mariners then optioned him to Tacoma so he could keep pitching over the break.
Walker made two starts for the Rainiers and won both games, but he lasted just five innings each time because of high pitch counts. He gave up three runs and 11 hits in 10 innings while striking out just two and walking four.
“Could be better, could be worse,” Walker said. “After this last start, I finally found what I needed to fix. I’ve been hammering that the past couple days in the bullpen.
“I felt like I was flying open. Watching video from last year and this year — my lower half, there’s no drive, no legs in it. When I did use my legs, it was still flying open.
“I noticed (on tape) last year I was closed off more when I finished. This year, I just feel like everything was open.”
The Mariners opted to recall Ramirez and Walker after choosing to give Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez an extra day of rest following their first post-break starts.
Iwakuma will pitch Thursday and Hernandez on Friday against the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field.
Rumor mill churns
The Mariners are showing interest in Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte, according to a report in the Beaver County (Pa.) Times.
The report also said it’s “unclear if the Pirates are willing to part with their left fielder after signing him to a five-year, $31 million contract in spring training.”
The Pirates have a surplus of outfielders, and they recently optioned Jose Tabata to Triple-A Indianapolis. The report also says they are interested in Walker and Tacoma infielders Nick Franklin and Chris Taylor.
Marte, 25, potentially would fill the Mariners’ need for an impact right-handed bat, although this season he has a .255/.328/.385 slash (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage).
Marte has five homers and 34 RBIs in 86 games. Some attribute his disappointing season to dealing with the deaths of a close friend and his mother-in-law.
... and keeps churning
Add Miami Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee to the Mariners’ list of rumored trade targets, according to CBSSports.com.
McGehee, 31, is batting .318 in 98 games for the Marlins. He has 57 RBIs despite hitting just two homers and has provided reliable protection in the Miami lineup for All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.
The Mariners presumably would shift McGehee to first base, although he has spent time in the outfield. He is signed through the end of the season for $1.1 million, which means roughly $400,000 remains on his deal.
Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley created a lot of buzz Monday with his catch at the wall that snatched a homer away from the Mets’ Travis d’Arnaud.
What drew far less attention is he had three hits, which continued his July surge. Ackley was 18-for-50 through Monday, a .360 rate that boosted his overall average to .239 from a season-low .214.
“The last five, six, seven games, I’ve felt pretty good,” he said. “The results are there, too. That always helps build the confidence, for sure.”
That confidence likely needed a boost, too, after Ackley closed June in a 0-for-21 slide. What changed?
“I think just staying on balls,” he said. “Lately, I’ve been working up the middle. And pitches away, I’ve been hitting to left field. That’s really important, especially when you’re getting pitched that way.”
Rookie Peoria outfielder Alex Jackson, the Mariners’ top pick in the June draft, suffered a small fracture in the left cheek when hit by a fly ball in Monday’s 5-3 victory over the Rangers in Surprise, Arizona.
Jackson, 18, was injured when he lost the ball in the lights while attempting to make a sliding catch. Club officials say the injury isn’t believed to be serious but acknowledge there is no timetable for his return.
A converted catcher, Jackson received a $4.2 million signing bonus as the sixth overall pick in the draft. He is batting .289 in 20 games at Peoria with two homers and 15 RBIs.
Heart and Hustle
Third baseman Kyle Seager is the Mariners’ nominee for the Heart and Hustle Award, which has been given annually since 2005 by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
The award seeks to recognize players for the passion they show in embodying the game’s values and tradition. An overall winner will be announced in November.
Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia won the 2013 award.
It was two years ago Wednesday — July 23, 2012 — that the Mariners traded outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees for right-handers Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell.
The deal occurred the day the Yankees were at Safeco Field to open a three-game series. Suzuki walked down the hall, donned uniform No. 31 and batted eighth against his former club.
Suzuki lined a single to center in his first at-bat, against Kevin Millwood, and finished 1-for-4 in the Yankees’ 4-1 victory.
The Mariners carried a 53-46 record into Tuesday’s game, which was their 100th of the season. The last time they reached triple figures with a winning record was 2009 at 52-48…The Mariners are 26-16 against opponents who were .500 or better when they played them.
The Mariners and Mets conclude their three-game series at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday at Safeco Field.
Walker (1-1, 3.60 ERA) will be recalled from Tacoma to face New York veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon (8-8, 4.12). Root Sports will broadcast the game.
The Orioles arrive Thursday for a four-game weekend series.