Mariners Insider Blog

Mariners notebook: Next step for Walker is a rehab assignment, likely in Tacoma

Taijuan Walker is tentatively slotted to start his rehab assignment Monday at Triple-A Tacoma.
Taijuan Walker is tentatively slotted to start his rehab assignment Monday at Triple-A Tacoma. AP

PITTSBURGH — Right-hander Taijuan Walker is ready to depart on a minor-league rehab assignment after experiencing no problems with his troublesome right foot over three innings Wednesday in a simulated game.

"I pretty much feel like I’m in a five-day routine," he said. "Bullpen (workout) in two days (in Chicago) and then get ready for a (rehab) game."

That’s the plan, manager Scott Servais confirmed prior to Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

"The intensity level, the effort level," Servais said, "I thought was pretty good (in the simulated game). I wouldn’t say it was 100 percent. But in that setting, I think it was about as good as you could ask for."

A normal five-day schedule would put Walker in line for a rehab start Monday for Triple-A Tacoma, which plays Albuquerque (Rockies) that night at Cheney Stadium.

After that?

"We’ll see how he does," Servais said. "I don’t want to say it’s one rehab (start), and he comes back. I want to make sure everyone who sees him pitch feels really good about it."

Walker’s next projected turn would be Aug. 6.

If it’s in the big leagues, that will be when the Mariners, while playing host to the Los Angeles Angels, are holding their big tribute night for Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. at Safeco Field.

"I’m definitely ready to get off (the disabled list)," Walker said, "but I want to make sure it’s right. I want to come back and stay back. I don’t want to have any setbacks or have to go on the DL again."

Wednesday was an encouraging step.

"I got a little tired," Walker said, "but I didn’t feel anything (in the foot) in three innings. Covering first base. Covering the bunt. Everything. No pain. Nothing.

"I throwing the fastball inside. To pitch inside, you really have to drive the ball through (your delivery) to a lefty."

That drive is important because Walker previously aggravated the discomfort in his right foot — specifically posterior tibial tendinitis — while pushing off the rubber at full intensity.

The result was inflammation in the tendon that attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the inside of right foot.

"I was looking at my stride length and my toe drag," he said, "and I could see that I was definitely pushing off and getting after it. The last inning, I got a little tired, and I was coming up a little bit (short). But that was because I was tired."

Walker first experienced the problem in a June 14 start at Tampa Bay. He made three more starts before being placed on the disabled list July 5 after lasting just four innings that day at Houston.

He was 4-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 starts prior to being placed on the disabled list.

"There’s a big enough window left in our season," Servais said, "that he can certainly make an impact. We really need him healthy and ready to go."

STOREN ARRIVES

Can a change of scenery turn struggling right-hander Drew Storen back into an effective reliever? That’s a two-month gamble the Mariners are willing to take.

"In a situation like this," Servais said, "you’re just trying to catch lightning in a bottle. I think Mel (Stottlemyre Jr.) has done a nice job. We’ve gotten (Tom) Wilhelmsen going again. Maybe we can get Storen (going, too)."

Storen, 28, joined the Mariners prior to Wednesday’s game after being acquired with cash considerations late Tuesday from Toronto in a trade for veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit, who is also seeking to regain past form with a new club.

The cash considerations amounted, roughly, to $375,000, which covers the difference remaining in the two contracts. Both pitchers will be free agents after the season.

Storen would just as soon forget his experience in Toronto, where he was 1-3 with three saves and a 6.21 ERA in 38 appearances.

"I think a lot of it was I got off to a rough start," he said. "You know how stats are. And it was an adjustment, adjusting to a new league. It’s a completely different ballgame for me."

His first outing with the Mariners didn’t go well, either. He gave up four runs in 1 1/3 innings Wednesday in a 10-1 loss to Pittsburgh — although three runs scored after he left the game.

The Blue Jays designated Storen for assignment Sunday, one day after he gave up three runs in one inning in a 14-5 loss to the Mariners at the Rogers Centre.

"I don’t know Storen’s whole story in Toronto," Servais said. "But you look at the numbers, and they’re kind of similar (to Benoit). He gave up a lot of hits, and he was just not as effective as he was (previously in his career)."

Prior to this season, Storen compiled a 3.02 ERA with 95 saves in 355 games over six seasons at Washington. He had 29 saves in 34 chances last season for the Nationals before a January trade sent him to Toronto for outfielder Ben Revere.

The Mariners viewed Benoit, 39, as their primary setup reliever and backup closer when they acquired him Nov. 12, 2015 from San Diego for two minor-league players: pitcher Enyel De Los Santos and infielder Nelson Ward.

But Benoit struggled to find his form as he battled a shoulder injury throughout spring training and for much of the season. He heads to Toronto with a 5.18 ERA in 26 games after posting a 2.35 mark over the previous six seasons.

CRUZ SITS

With duty as a designated hitter not an option, Nelson Cruz got a day to rest a leg battered by a number of foul balls in recent games. He started Tuesday in right field against the Pirates in the series opener.

"He is a grinder," Servais said, "and he’ll play through pain. But going first to third (Tuesday) night, it was certainly bothering him. You can’t DH here, obviously.

"Looking ahead, we have the three games in Chicago (with no DH), and we certainly want to have him in there."

VINCENT UPDATE

Reliever Nick Vincent is tentatively slotted to throw a bullpen workout this weekend at Tacoma as the next step in his efforts to recover from a strained muscle in his middle back.

"He’ll probably a couple of bullpens with (the Rainiers)," Servais said. "Then we’ll get him out on a rehab (assignment) for one or two outings, and we’ll see where we’re at."

Vincent was 2-3 with a 3.47 ERA, one save and 11 holds in 35 games prior to going on the disabled after a June 26 appearance against St. Louis.

MINOR DETAILS

Short-A Everett outfielder Eric Filia has hits in 13 of his last 14 games in compiling a .331 average that ranks third in the Northwest League. He also has a .418 on-base percentage and a .483 slugging percentage through 35 games.

The Mariners selected Filia, 24, in the 20th round of the MLB Draft in June.

***The Mariners signed right-hander Dillon Moyer, the son of Jamie Moyer, to a minor-league deal and assigned him to Everett. The younger Moyer, 25, spent three years in the Dodgers’ system as an infielder before converting last year to pitching.

LOOKING BACK

It was 23 years ago Thursday — July 28, 1993 — that Ken Griffey Jr. reached the third-deck facade in right field with a homer against Minnesota’s Willie Banks at the Kingdome.

It marked Griffey’s eighth straight game with a homer, which tied a major-league record. It was also the Mariners’ only run in a 5-1 loss.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners are the only club in the majors with eight players who have 10 or more homers. Washington and Boston have seven…Robinson Cano needs three more extra-base hits to reach 50 for a 12th straight year. Only three other players achieved that in their first 12 seasons: Albert Pujols, Carlos Lee and Eddie MathewsKyle Seager got his 20th homer Tuesday and became the sixth player in franchise history to have five 20-homer seasons. The others are Ken Griffey Jr. (9), Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner (8), and Raul Ibanez and Alex Rodriguez (5).

ON TAP

The Mariners have their third open date in an eight-day span Thursday before opening a three-game weekend series Friday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It will be their first trip to the North Side since 2007.

Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6 with a 3.96 ERA) will pitch the series opener at 11:20 a.m. Pacific time Friday against Cubs lefty and Bellarmine alum Jon Lester (10-4, 3.09).

The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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