Walker to be fifth starter, Olson earns bullpen spot
Lloyd McClendon didn’t want to make any big official pronouncement about his final 25-man roster on Wednesday. But after the Mariners traded right-hander Erasmo Ramirez to the Rays on Tuesday night, the pieces of the puzzle were all in place.
“Look at the board,” the second-year skipper said, nodding toward an office wall showing Taijuan Walker among his five starters and rookie Tyler Olson as the last name in the bullpen.
“Write what you see,” McClendon said. “I like my team.”
It’s been a foregone conclusion that Walker earned the fifth starter role since Roenis Elias was sent down to the Minors last week, but McClendon refused to finalize that news as long as Ramirez remained in the picture. But once Ramirez was dealt to Tampa Bay for left-hander Mike Montgomery, there was no hiding the inevitable.
With one start remaining on Saturday, Walker has gone 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA in six Cactus League games. Opponents have hit .111 against him and he’s struck out 24 with just four walks in 25 innings. Clearly the 22-year-old pitched his way onto the team with a dominant spring.
“Sure he did,” McClendon said. “He performed extremely well. The rotation’s not set, but he’s on the club.”
The rotation order won’t come for a few more days, but Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ and Walker are lined up to pitch in succession, each on five day’s rest at this point. Regarded as one of baseball’s up-and-coming right-handers for the past several years, Walker will be with the club on Opening Day for the first time in his young career.
“Obviously it feels good,” Walker said. “But now it pretty much starts all over again. I’m still competing, because Elias is going to be down there waiting for his turn to come up the moment I slack off. I just have to make sure I stay focused.”
Olson’s status is still a little tenuous. Since he’s not on the 40-man roster, the Mariners haven’t finalized his promotion. When they do, it’ll be a huge moment for a 25-year-old who has never pitched above Double-A ball. He’s set to become the only non-roster invitee to crack the 25-man group that will head to Seattle for Monday’s Opening Day.
Like Walker, Olson did everything possible this spring as he’s yet to allow an earned run in 12 2/3 innings over 10 appearances with eight hits, four walks and 15 strikeouts.
“He’s shown a lot of poise and the ability to get left-handers and right-handers out,” McClendon said. “He holds runners, works fast, throws strikes, fields his position. He’s done a great job. I’ve said every year I’m looking for surprises and he’s a surprise. Obviously we haven’t broke camp yet and he’s a non-roster guy, but he’s done a nice job.”
Olson, who grew up in Spokane, Wash., and was drafted out of Gonzaga University in the seventh round in 2013, isn’t taking anything for granted. As of Wednesday morning, he’d yet to tell his family that they’ll be able to drive the four hours from eastern Washington to see him pitch to start this season.
“I haven’t told anyone,” he said. “I’ve been hoping and working hard for this for a long time. So being able to call the parents and hopefully confirm that it is true and things are working out is going to be a lot of emotions.”
In other Wednesday news:
• While the Mariners are off Thursday, Hisashi Iwakuma will make his final spring tuneup in a 7 p.m. PT game against the Padres Triple-A club on the Padres’ back field at the Peoria Complex.
McClendon said it will be a relatively short outing for Iwakuma, with the same situation for J.A. Happ on Friday night and Walker on Saturday against the Rockies.
• McClendon took the same approach with Hernandez’s 47-pitch outing when he lasted just 1 2/3 innings on Tuesday against the Indians.
“I could easily have sent him to the bullpen to throw more, but I didn’t want to,” McClendon said. “It was hot out, he was out of whack. It would serve no purpose. He’s ready to go. He could throw 100 pitches come Monday and it made no sense to send him out there.”
• Seth Smith is back in the lineup for Wednesday’s game with the White Sox after sitting out three games with a sore ankle. Here’s the full lineups for the 1:05 p.m. game at Peoria, which will be televised live by ROOT Sports and MLB.TV.