Help is on the way.
If all goes as Mariners manager Scott Servais said he expects, Taijuan Walker should be ready to make his next start on Thursday when the Mariners host the Baltimore Orioles.
Walker missed his last start because of tendinitis in his right foot.
Both he and Wade Miley threw a bullpen session early Sunday, and Servais said they’re “leaning toward” Thursday for Walker.
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“Walk felt fine,” Servais said. “He should be lined up to make a start before we go out on the road.
“He’s anxious. … I expect everything to be a go going forward.”
And Miley said Saturday that he’s “ready to go” following a rehab start at Short-A Everett. So barring any setbacks, he should start Wednesday. The Mariners officially listed Wednesday’s starting pitcher as TBA.
With Walker skipping a start and Miley (shoulder) and Felix Hernandez (calf) on the disabled list, the Mariners traded for Wade LeBlanc to go with Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Nathan Karns.
So what happens if/when Miley and Walker return this week?
Paxton didn’t have his best stuff in Sunday’s 11-6 loss to St. Louis. He allowed five runs in five innings, but had a 3-1 lead after four innings. Servais said he didn’t expect this to shake Paxton’s confidence.
Prior to Sunday, Paxton had struck out 27 batters in 26 innings, with a 2.77 ERA, not counting his first Mariners start — when he lasted 3 2/3 innings and was tagged for eight runs (three earned) in a loss to the San Diego Padres.
LeBlanctossed six scoreless innings and allowed three hits in his Mariners debut last week.
Karns has struggled in his past four starts, posting a 7.36 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. But Servais noted that Karns had a stretch this season where he was one of the M’s most consistent starters. And he leads the team with 84 strikeouts.
Servais said he wouldn’t want a six-pitcher rotation.
“It’s good that we’ll actually have to make some tougher decisions here,” Servais said. “Obviously, what Wade LeBlanc did the other day was huge for us. We feel good about running him out there. We’ll have some good discussions with (general manager) Jerry (Dipoto) and the coaching staff, and we’ll have a plan.”
Servais elected to slide center fielder Leonys Martin down from leadoff to the No. 8 hitter for Sunday’s game against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia.
Servais said it was a matchup thing. It allowed him to get Ketel Marte’s right-handed bat at the top of the order against a lefty.
But consider how Martin, a left-handed batter, has hit as a leadoff — he went 3 for 5 there in Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Cardinals, and is hitting .400 (20 for 50) there for the season. He was 2 for 3 on Sunday.
But at leadoff he’s been the best in the bigs for players who have at least 50 at-bats there. He’s batting .257 with a career-high 11 home runs for the season.
“(Saturday) he hit three balls on the ground and they were in good spots. Hopefully it continues,” Servais said. “He’s a key part to our offense, and he needs to get on base — hit, walk, hit-by-pitch, whatever it is. Just get on base.”
Servais said he spoke to Martin before Saturday’s game about keeping more balls on the ground.
“I talked to him a little before the game — hits, at-bats, controlling his at-bats, maybe taking a little bit off of the gas with two strikes,” Servais said. “Choke up and try to make contact.”
Some Mariners wondered if all the balls crushed Sunday at Safeco (eight homers) had to do with the conditions.
Chris Iannetta and Franklin Gutierrez both noted a strong wind heading toward right field.
“The ball was flying,” Iannetta said. “The ball is going so hard to right and center.”
Gutierrez’s three-run homer in the sixth inning that tied the game at 6-6 landed in the bullpen beyond the left field wall.
“Gutierrez’s ball was crushed,” Iannetta said. “Compared to where it went over, it should have gone farther.”
Then there was Tommy Pham’s home run in the top of the seventh as part of the Cardinals’ back-to-back shots to give them an 8-6 lead.
“On normal days, I wonder if that ball would have stayed in the yard,” Iannetta said. “But today it was really flying out to right.”
Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill has reached base safely in 67 of 72 games this season. He has hits in 62 games.
O’Neill was the Mariners’ third-round draft pick in 2013 and is 21. He’s hitting .314 so far this season with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs.
The Mariners get a day off Monday, and their over-taxed bullpen will get some rest. Seattle resumes interleague play Tuesday with a two-game home series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (6-6, 4.45 ERA) is scheduled to start against Pirates left-hander Jonathan Niese (6-5, 4.93).
The game will be televised on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677