In Double-A Jackson, Taijuan Walker had a scintillating 2.46 ERA in 84 innings.
Since joining Triple-A Tacoma last month, he's been even better – a 2.42 ERA in 26 innings.
Walker, who will turn 21 on Aug. 13, makes his sixth start tonight against the visiting Omaha Storm Chasers. He’s 2-0 in five starts with the sterling ERA and 29 strikeouts.
But the bigger question is how much of the season does he have left? Walker’s five innings against Tucson his last start put him at 110 innings for the season dating back to his 25 starts with the Jackson Generals.
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At just 20 years old (21 on Aug. 13) the Mariners will err on the side of caution in terms of wearing out his arm.
Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg has a highly publicized inning-limit of 160 innings last year, but he was also coming off Tommy John surgery.
Rainiers manager John Stearns said Walker has a pitch limit of about 100 per start and that he and pitching coach Terry Clark watch it very closely. But he has not been notified by the Mariners front office of an inning limit yet.
“Until they tell me something, I’m going to keep throwing him out there,” Stearns said. “He’s limited to about 100 pitches per outing and that’s what we work with.”
Based on how Walker has thrown about 5.8 innings per start (an average from Jackson and Tacoma combined) he’s on pace to make another seven starts and finish the season with 150.6 innings. Still well short of Strasburg’s limit, which, again, followed an injury.
But Stearns insisted the team plans to take it easy with the right-handed flamethrower.
“He is a 20-year-old kid who is going to pitch in the big leagues,” Stearns said. “We don’t have to hurry him or put high expectations on him. We just try to create a platform to be relaxed, be ready and got out and get better with each outing.”
He starts against Omaha’s Brian Sanches (7-2, 3.44 ERA) tonight at 7:05 p.m.
Former Mariner Ben Broussard starts a first base for the Storm Chasers (53-57) and is batting fourth. He played 155 games combined for the M’s in 2006 and 2007. Most remember the Mariners trading Shin-Soo Choo to the Cleveland Indians for him – not a month after they traded shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez.
FRANKLIN GUTIERREZ UPDATE
With Michael Morse starting in the M’s lineup against the Red Sox tonight following his rehabilitation from a quad injury, I had a chance to speak with Stearns about Franklin Gutierrez’ eventual return.
He said he is following a progression with Gutierrez that has been handed down from the medical staff. The organization is monitoring the oft-injured, bad-luck prone, outfielder daily.
“Whenever everybody feels he is healthy, he could go right back to the big leagues quickly,” Stearns said. “He hasn’t had any setbacks. But whatever position he plays, that comes from the guys upstairs. Some nights he’s off, some he’s DHing, sometimes he’s in right field.”
Gutierrez was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in 2011 and said he has a genetic disorder that basically causes inflammation and arthritic pain in his joints and other parts of his body.
He was placed on the 15-day DL on June 24 with a strained right hamstring after going to the 60-day DL with a right hamstring strain on April 23. He’s also had groin issues and suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head on a pickoff attempt last year.
“The big thing is we thought he was ready last time and he got hurt again after two games. We just don’t want to speculate with him. We are just going to follow orders and take everything day by day.”
Gutierrez is starting in right field tonight and batting third. He is hitting .225 with three home runs and 20 RBI in 31 games with the Rainiers in his third consecutive season having missed 50 or more games in the big leagues.
STEARNS JOB PERMANENT?
When Stearns on May took over for Daren Brown, entering his 13th season managing the Rainiers and their all-time winningest manager, he didn’t know how long he would have it.
It’s now safe to say he’ll manage the team the rest of the season barring anything drastic.
“I don’t know if we can call this permanent or not, but I think it’s important that we finish the year here and give this team some stability,” Stearns said. “As long as the club wants me here, I’ll give them what they want.”
Brown was promoted to be the Mariners third base coach when Jeff Datz took a leave of absence to receive cancer treatment. Stearns served as the M’s third base coach a few games before turning the catching coordinator into the Rainiers manager.
“It all happened so quickly,” Stearns said. “My head was whirling there for about a month. I feel like I’m kind of settling in.”
He said he has tried to keep things similar to how they were with Brown, though one of the big differences is how he regularly throws batting practice to players before games.
“I really root for every player to be as good as they can get,” he said. “I try to be honest with them and straight forward, not pull any punches and sometimes it comes out wrong and once in a while I have rubbed players wrong, but if they are with me long enough, they understand that I am in their corner.”
Stearns has dealt with a constant revolving lineup, having sent Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino and Brandon Maurer recently among others up to Seattle.
“The most satisfying area of managing is to send a guy to the next level and just to see the glow in his face, it gives you chills,” Stearns said. “It’s easily the funnest part of the job.”