In a move that signals their commitment to making a postseason push, the Mariners optioned struggling right-hander Taijuan Walker to Triple-A Tacoma prior to Monday’s series opener against Detroit at Safeco Field.
"His last 13 starts," manager Scott Servais said, "he’s had three quality starts. It may be different if we were 10 or 15 games below .500. We’re not."
The Mariners carried a 57-53 record into Monday’s game, which placed them 3 1/2 games behind the Tigers (61-50) for the American League’s final wild-card spot.
Walker lasted just four innings Saturday while giving up six runs to the Los Angeles Angels in his first start since returning from a month-long stay on the disabled list because of tendinitis in his right foot.
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Afterward, he attributed his problems to rustiness.
"It takes time when you don’t pitch for a month," Walker said. "I was really amped up in the first inning (when he gave up a three-run homer to Mike Trout). I just really tried to muscle everything. Nothing was really smooth and fluid."
Servais suggested Walker’s competitive edge also appeared rusty.
"When you’re one of five starting pitchers," Servais said, "there’s a certain level of expectation. You’ve got to go deeper in games. You’ve got to be competitive.
"He’s had a few nagging injuries, but where we’re at as a club dictated (the decision) as much as anything."
The move cleared space on the 25-man roster for right-handed reliever Arquimedes Caminero, who reported Monday after being acquired Saturday from Pittsburgh for one or two players to be named later.
Sending Walker to the minors also means left-hander Ariel Miranda, acquired July 31 from Baltimore for pitcher Wade Miley, will remain in the rotation and fill Walker’s turn Friday at Oakland.
Miranda made his first big-league start Aug. 4 against Boston and got a no-decision after giving up two runs in eight innings.
Servais acknowledged Walker wasn’t happy at the demotion.
"I would hope he wouldn’t be happy," Servais said. "Let’s send him down. Hopefully, he responds the right way and comes back with a chip on his shoulder, and we get the good Taijuan back."
Servais also made it clear that he wants to see an improved competitive approach from Walker, who has long been viewed as the heir apparent to Felix Hernandez as the rotation’s front man.
"There are plenty of things for him to work out," Servais said, "but the biggest thing is he needs to continue to compete. When you don’t have it on a particular night or you give up some runs early in the game, how do you stay in the game?
"You’ve seen what Felix has done here. It hasn’t been great for Felix since he’s been back (from a calf injury). But you look up at the end of the game, and (he’s pitched into the) seventh inning or the eighth inning. He keeps us in the game.
"You learn that. That’s an experienced thing over time. Taijuan, I’m sure, will pick up on that."
Walker is 4-7 with a 4.10 ERA overall in 17 starts, but he is 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 13 starts since a dominant April (2-0 in four starts while permitting only four earned runs in 25 innings).
"It’s a do-good league," Servais said. "If you do good, you stay. Where younger players are, at certain points in their career, hopefully you go down (to the minors) and re-start."
Servais pointed to left-hander James Paxton and catcher Mike Zunino as players who responded well after starting the season at Tacoma.
"Those guys went down, took the right approach and the right attitude," Servais said. "They’ve come back, and they’ve been major contributors."
The day-after report on Paxton was positive.
Paxton shows reduced swelling in his elbow after being struck by a line drive Sunday in the ninth inning against the Angels. He permitted only one unearned run before exiting after 8 1/3 innings before Tom Wilhelmsen closed out a 3-1 victory.
X-rays after Sunday’s game confirmed Paxton suffered nothing more than a deep bruise. His recovery appears to hinge on the time required for the swelling to dissipate.
Plans call for Paxton to undergo follow-up examinations Monday and Tuesday by club physicians but, at this point, the Mariners are guardedly optimistic that he won’t require more than an extra day or two before making his next start.
"We have an off day (Thursday)," Servais said. "That gives him an extra day of rest (prior to a scheduled Saturday start at Oakland). With the off day, you can also slide him back a couple of more (days).
"We’ll see. We’ve got some wiggle room there. I don’t know for sure what day he’s going to start."
The bullpen added an extra dose of heat when Caminero reported prior to Monday’s game. The Mariners acquired him Saturday from the Pirates by winning a trade-waiver claim and then negotiating a deal.
Caminero’s arsenal includes an upper-90s fastball along with a slider and a split-finger fastball. Former Miami teammate Steve Cishek confirmed: "He can bring it."
The problem for Caminero is an occasional lack of command. He is averaging 3.9 walks per nine innings in 131 games over parts of four big-league seasons.
Caminero had a 3.51 ERA this season in 39 games for the Pirates, but he owns a 2.13 ERA in 21 games since May 24. He had a 5.74 ERA in his first 18 outings.
"I would say that’s the league," Caminero said. "It’s 162 games. Everyone is going to have ups and downs. I guess I was down (early in the season), then I picked up myself and threw strikes.
"There are a lot of changes through the season, but it was nothing major. It was just some little things that I had to adjust."
Hi-A Bakersfield improved to 61-53 on Sunday with a 5-1 victory at Lake Elsinore (Padres). In doing so, the Blaze matched their 2015 victory total, when they finished 61-79.
Bakersfield is the third of the Mariners’ four full-season affiliates to match or exceed their 2015 victory totals.
Double-A Jackson entered Monday at 72-40 after finishing last year at 53-84. Lo-A Clinton was 68-45 after finishing last year at 46-93.
The Mariners’ other full-season affiliate, Triple-A Tacoma, was 67-48 and needed one more victory to match its 2015 total. The Rainiers finished last season at 68-76.
Double-A Jackson left-hander Ryan Yarbrough was picked as the Southern League pitcher of the week for Aug. 1-7. He permitted one hit in six scoreless innings against Montgomery (Rays) in his only start.
Yarbrough, 24, previously won the award for the week of May 23-29. Jackson pitchers have won the award five times this season. Yarbrough is 11-4 with a 3.02 ERA in 21 starts.
The Mariners selected Yarbough in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft.
It was six years ago Tuesday — Aug. 9, 2010 — that the Mariners overhauled their on-field staff by firing manager Don Wakamatsu, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, pitching coach Rick Adair and performance coach Steve Hecht.
They promoted Triple-A Tacoma manager Daren Brown to serve as interim manager and selected Roger Hansen as bench coach and Carl Willis as pitching coach.
Shortstop Ketel Marte, sidelined since July 17 by mononucleosis, could return to active duty as soon as Tuesday. Plans called for him to be re-evaluated after playing nine innings Monday in his rehab assignment at Tacoma…closer Steve Cishek played catch for a second straight game in his recovery from torn labrum in his left hip. He is eligible to be activated on Aug. 17…utilityman Shawn O’Malley, the regular shortstop in Marte’s absence, is battling a cold and wasn’t in the starting lineup, Mike Freeman, recalled Sunday from Tacoma, started in O’Malley’s place…Tom Wilhelmsen became the sixth Mariners pitcher this season to record a save when he closed out Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Angels. The others are: Steve Cishek (25), Edwin Diaz (4) and Nathan Karns, Wade LeBlanc and Nick Vincent with one apiece…the Mariners completed this fifth series sweep of the season Sunday when they made it three in a row against the Angels. They have been swept on six occasions.
The Mariners and Tigers continue their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Safeco Field. Left-hander Wade LeBlanc (1-0 with a 4.31 ERA) will face Detroit left-hander Daniel Norris (1-0, 4.85).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners