LOS ANGELES — Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker is keenly appreciative of the opportunity to start Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers when baseball again recognizes Jackie Robinson’s contributions.
“The fact that I get to pitch on Jackie Robinson Day,” Walker said, “and I get to wear 42 on my back is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time — since I started playing baseball. So, it’s definitely a great honor.”
Center fielder Austin Jackson views the annual observance of Robinson’s achievement as a moment that “means something to everybody” involved in Major League Baseball.
“When you take the field,” he said, “and you’re running out and everybody is wearing the same number, I think it touches you a little bit because everybody is the same.
“No matter the skin type, no matter where you’re from, no matter the race or ethnicity, it doesn’t matter. On that day, and every day really, we’re all the same. We’re all out to achieve the same goal.
“I just think it’s special that MLB recognizes that.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier by appearing in a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In tribute, players on all clubs will wear his No. 42.
Robinson’s widow, Rachel, is scheduled to play a central role in the ceremonial first pitch.
“On behalf of our family and the Jackie Robinson Foundation,” Rachel Robinson said, “I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Major League Baseball for honoring Jack’s historic achievements and his fight for equality both on and off the ball field.”
Robinson died at age 53 in 1972 from a heart attack.
The game at Dodger Stadium will also serve as the annual Civil Rights Game and include award presentations to former NBA star Magic Johnson, a part owner of the Dodgers, and Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson.
Frank Robinson recently marked the 40th anniversary of becoming baseball’s first black manager. The Mariners’ Lloyd McClendon is the only current black manager.
“I had the pleasure of managing against Frank,” McClendon said, “and he was a tough nut to crack. I’ll never forget I set up golf for him one day in Pittsburgh.
“And he called over to the office and said, ‘This is Frank Robinson.’ I said, how you doing, Skip?’ He said, ‘Thanks for golf’ and hung up. I said, `Well, I’m making progress.’
“But I’ll tell you what, when I was fired in Pittsburgh, the first phone call I got was from Frank Robinson. I’ll never forget that. He said, `You’ll get another opportunity. You’re good at what you do.
“And that meant a lot to me.”
HERNANDEZ ON HOLD
All signs point to Felix Hernandez making his next scheduled start Saturday against Texas after exiting Sunday’s outing at Oakland after five innings because of tightness in his right quadriceps muscle.
One qualifier: McClendon wants to see Hernandez perform Wednesday in his usual between-starts bullpen workout.
“As we speak right now,” McClendon said, “my plan is to go with Felix (on Saturday). I still want to see his bullpen session.”
The Mariners have some flexibility regarding Hernandez because of Thursday’s open date.
James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Walker could each shift forward one day — to Saturday, Sunday and Monday — and still be pitching on normal rest.
Nelson Cruz entered Tuesday with four homers in his last three games and, after hitting two Monday to the opposite field, believes he is really locked in.
“I think (Monday) was a good sign,” he said. “Going the other way, that’s something that normally when I do that, I’m seeing the ball pretty good.”
Cruz led the majors last season with 40 homers while playing for Baltimore and is currently tied with Detroit’s Victor Martinez for the American League lead.
“He’s finding his groove,” McClendon said. “He’s swinging at strikes. He’s getting pitches to drive, and he’s taking care of them. I think, early on, he was probably trying to do a little too much.
“But I think he’s settled in. He’s comfortable now.”
Cruz was just 1-for-15 in his first four games but is 6-for-13 over his last three.
ALSO POWERING UP
Is Dustin Ackley turning into a power hitter?
Ackley hit his third homer of the season in Monday’s 6-5 loss to the Dodgers and has 13 dating to last July 31. Only seven players have more, and all seven have more at-bats than Ackley in that span:
Adrian Gonzalez (Dodgers) 17; Jose Bautista (Blue Jays) and Chris Carter (Astros) 16; Cruz (Orioles/Mariners) and Adam LaRoche (Nationals/White Sox) 15; and Matt Kemp (Dodgers/Padres) and J.D. Martinez (Tigers) 14.
Five other players have 13 homers in that span.
Outfielder Alex Jackson is off to a slow start at Lo-A Clinton with just two hits in 13 at-bats through his first four games, although he does have three RBIs.
Jackson, 19, is ranked No. 1 on the TNT Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects. He was the Mariners’ first-round pick in the 2014 draft.
It was 19 years ago Wednesday — April 15, 1996 — that the Mariners posted the biggest comeback victory in franchise history by an eight-run deficit for an 11-10 victory over the Angels at the Kingdome.
Trailing 9-1 through 3 1/2 innings, the Mariners pulled even at 10-10 on Russ Davis’ three-run double in the seventh. Jay Buhner’s RBI single in the eighth inning provided the winning run.
It was the first meeting between the two American League West rivals since the Mariners won a 1995 tie-breaker to reach postseason for the first time in franchise history.
The Mariners, entering Tuesday, were 3-0 in day games and 0-4 in night games…Ackley has a 10-game hitting streak that dates to Sept. 23 of last season…The Mariners, through Monday, had scored 17 of their 25 runs via home runs.
The Mariners and Dodgers conclude their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (0-1, 24.30) will start against Los Angeles lefty Brett Anderson (0-0, 4.50).
The game can be seen on Root Sports and ESPN2. It can be head on 710 ESPN.