PEORIA, Ariz. — It turns out that right-hander Taijuan Walker, the Mariners’ prize pitching prospect, isn’t OK after all. And that wasn’t the only bad news Friday concerning the club’s rotation.
But let’s start there: Walker was shut down from all throwing activity for one week after a second medical opinion confirmed inflammation in the bursa sac of his throwing shoulder.
“It definitely sucks,” Walker admitted, “but I feel good about the (overall) situation. I’m not going to push or try to fight through something to make it worse. I’m just going to take the time off, get healthy and then move on.”
That’s not all.
All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma learned later in the day that he won’t be able to begin throwing for another three weeks in his recovery from a strained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand.
The news with Iwakuma, while disappointing, wasn’t entirely unexpected. The original timetable for his return was pegged at four-to-six weeks. He is roughly three weeks into his recovery period.
Still, Iwakuma had been hopeful he might gain clearance Friday to begin throwing within the next few days. Now, he appears certain to open the season on the disabled list.
Walker’s status is also on hold after an examination Thursday by Dr. Neil ElAttrache in Los Angeles at the Kerlan Jobe Clinic confirmed the previous diagnosis by Mariners medical director Dr. Ed Khalfayan:
Walker has what club officials are characterizing as “minor inflammation in his right shoulder.” But nothing more.
“The MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging exams) were clean,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “They were good. There was no structural damage with this guy. So everything is fine from that standpoint.”
That report likely sent a surge of relief through the organization because inflammation in the shoulder bursa can be indicative of more serious issues, such as rotator-cuff problems.
“I’m 100 percent confident (there is no major problem).” Walker said. “I was throwing and everything felt fine. It’s just inflammation. Soreness.
“I could feel it a little bit during (throwing workouts). It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t like, `Ah, it hurts.’ It was just kind of nagging.”
Even so, it is, to use McClendon’s words, “a bit of a setback” and also dims the likelihood that Walker will open the season in the Mariners’ rotation.
Trainer Rick Griffin outlined a likely (and very tentative) three-week recovery plan for Walker that starts with playing catch before advancing to bullpen workouts, throwing live batting practice and simulated games.
“He’s got to have pain-free sessions when he plays catch,” Griffin said. “All of the other guys here did three bullpens and two live batting practice sessions.”
Iwakuma, 32, was 14-6 last season with a 2.66 ERA in 33 starts and paired with Felix Hernandez in providing the Mariners with one of the game’s top starting duos.
Club officials said the examination by Dr. Don Sheridan, a hand specialist, showed Iwakuma is making significant progress, but the injury is extra troublesome because it affects his ability to throw his primary pitch, a split fastball.
“He throws a lot of splits,” Griffin said. “That opens up that joint and puts a lot of pressure on that tendon. That’s an additional factor in dealing with this.”
The injuries to Iwakuma and Walker effectively leave the Mariners with four openings in their rotation behind Hernandez.
“A lot of opportunities,” McClendon said, “and we have a lot of big arms. Hopefully, they can take advantage of those opportunities.”
Erasmo Ramirez worked two scoreless innings Thursday in a 7-1 victory over San Diego. Rookie lefty James Paxton then retired all six hitters in the first two innings of Friday’s 12-1 romp over the Padres.
Next in line are veterans Scott Baker and Randy Wolf, who are slotted for starts Saturday and Sunday. Both are recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Blake Beavan and Ramirez are scheduled for Monday’s split-squad games. Beavan pitched two scoreless innings Thursday after relieving Ramirez against the Padres.
Hernandez makes his spring debut Tuesday before cycle returns to Paxton, Baker and Wolf.
Walker reported shoulder soreness soon after arriving for spring training. Club officials responded by putting him on a go-slow regimen but continued to insist they saw no reason for concern.
“It was just something that wouldn’t go away,” Walker said. “It was in there, the soreness. I just wanted to get it checked out.”
Walker hasn’t thrown from a mound since Feb. 20, but swelling returned after he threw long-toss session on Tuesday and Wednesday. That prompted a trip to Los Angeles for a second opinion.
“Seeing Dr. ElAttrache…” Walker said. “Definitely a lot of encouragement. It’s inflamed. They put me on some anti-inflammatories and, in seven days, I’ll be good to go.”
Walker, 21, is generally viewed as the organization’s top prospect and, while he projected as a strong candidate to open the season in the club’s rotation, his recovery won’t be rushed.
“This guy, we’re not just talking about 2014,” McClendon said. “Hopefully, we’re talking about the next 15 years. We have to be cautious, and we have to be smart.”