PEORIA, Ariz. — Right-hander Taijuan Walker gets to make a quick first impression Wednesday in his bid to win a spot in the Mariners’ rotation when he starts the Cactus League opener against San Diego.
Walker will likely be limited to two innings before the Mariners begin shuttling through their relievers. The game starts at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time at Peoria Stadium and can be seen on Root Sports.
“I’m just going to go out there and treat it like a game,” Walker said. “Throw all of my pitches and try to attack the zone.”
A year ago, Walker was battling shoulder soreness, which forced him to open the season on the disabled list and limited him throughout the season’s early months.
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“I wasn’t able to do anything (early last spring),” he recalled. “I wasn’t even playing catch. To be able to start a game this spring, and actually have a spring training, feels good.
“Everything feels real good. I’m healthy right now. Hopefully, I can just keep it rolling. I can’t wait.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon revealed his probable starters for the first six Cactus League games prior to Sunday’s workout. All are subject to change, particularly with rain in the forecast.
With that qualifier:
***Lefty Roenis Elias will start Thursday against the Padres. He is expected to battle Walker for the rotation’s only projected opening behind Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ and James Paxton.
***Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez opens his long-shot bid for a roster spot Friday with a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Glendale. He is out of options, which means he must clear waivers before returning to the minors.
***Iwakuma and right-hander Jordan Pries are slotted for Saturday’s split-squad doubleheader. Iwakuma will start against Arizona in Peoria, while Pries will pitch against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale.
***Happ will make his first appearance in a Mariners’ uniform in next Sunday’s game against Cincinnati in Glendale.
McClendon also announced the pitchers scheduled to follow Walker in Wednesday’s opener against the Padres: Sam Gaviglio, Mike Kickham, David Rollins, Rafael Perez, Carson Smith and Dominic Leone.
Weather permitting, the Mariners are scheduled to conclude Monday’s workout by playing their only intrasquad game.
Plans call for Ramirez and Pries to start what projects as a five-inning game on the club’s main practice field at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Ramirez will be followed by lefty Joe Saunders, right-hander Justin Germano, lefty Tyler Olson and righty Forrest Snow.
Scheduled to follow Pries: lefties Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge and right-handers Stephen Landazuri and Mark Lowe.
The forecast for Monday calls for a 100-percent chance of rain in the Peoria area.
SUCRE HAS EDGE
Jesus Sucre seems a strong bet to retain his job as the backup to starting catcher Mike Zunino despite the Mariners’ off-season move to sign veteran John Baker to a minor-league contract.
McClendon conceded he “would think so” when asked if Sucre has the edge.
“He did a (heck) of a job for us last year,” McClendon said. “But we brought guys in to compete. We’ll see what happens.”
Sucre, 26, batted just .213 last season with no homers and five RBIs in 21 games following his July 8 recall from Triple-A Tacoma. Baker, 34, batted just .192 last season in 68 games for the Cubs but has a .247 career average.
McClendon minimized the need for offense from a backup catcher.
“In my mind,” he said, “it’s not extremely important. I want a guy who I know can run a staff, cut down the running game, block and receive.”
Sucre graded out at three runs above average last season in defensive runs saved. Baker graded out at minus-7.