PEORIA, Ariz. — Will prize pitching prospect Taijuan Walker be ready when the regular season starts? Manager Lloyd McClendon remains hopeful, but there now 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).”
Walker threw long toss for a second straight day in his ongoing effort to build strength in his once-sore shoulder. He hasn’t thrown from a mound since Feb. 20 but continues to insists he’s fine.
McClendon said, prior to camp, that he’d be disappointed if Walker wasn’t in the rotation when the season started.
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“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 Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma when the Mariners open their 33-game Cactus League schedule.
And while 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 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 opener against San Diego at Peoria Stadium. The game starts at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time 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 on Monday.
Hernandez is scheduled for his spring debut Tuesday against the 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 on 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 pitchers when the season starts.
The Mariners’ farm system ranks 17th among the 30 clubs in Baseball Prospectus’ annual assessment. It ranked fifth prior a year ago, but Prospectus attributed much of the decline to players advancing to the big leagues.
Looking ahead to 2015: “The Mariners are going to lose Walker and Paxton to the majors, but the system should hold steady thanks to expected developmental progress from D.J. 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 morning prior to the 5 a.m. Pacific time deadline.
Wright finished with 53 percent of the vote and will meet either Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista or Oakland second baseman Eric Sogard in the finals.
Voice from the past
Infielder Chone Figgins is still coming to grips, it seems, in being a $38 million flop with the Mariners as he tries to win a job this spring with the Dodgers after sitting out all of last season.
“It kind of says it all,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “when you have just signed a $38-million contract (for four years as a free agent prior to the 2010 season), and they pinch-hit for you in the fourth game.”
Well, that’s mostly true…as far as it goes.
It was actually the sixth game (a quibble) of the 2010 season. The Mariners trailed 3-2 with runners at first and third with one out in the ninth inning at Texas when manager Don Wakamatsu went to the bench.
Ken Griffey Jr. batted for Figgins against Rangers closer Frank Francisco and lined a game-tying single to left-center. 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 Mariners victory, a rare-enough thing during his time with the Mariners, as the indicative moment of a career that tanked to a .227/.302/.283 slash over three years prior to his release.
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 Division.
Oakland’s over/under is 88.5 in Bovada’s odds, followed by Los Angeles and Texas at 86.5. Houston ranks 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 tune-up 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 won’t make the lineup for Thursday’s opener available until the morning of the game.