Taijuan Walker, the Mariners top pitching prospect, has been mentioned frequently in trade rumors the past few weeks as Seattle has been connected in pursuits of offensive help as well as Rays ace David Price.
The 21-year-old will be recalled by the Mariners on Wednesday to start against the Mets after making his past two starts with Triple-A Tacoma. He said he’s trying not to get caught up in the trade rumors.
“It’s kind of hard not to,” he said. “Especially when you’ve got family and friends always calling and asking, ‘Hey, where are you going?’ You going here? You going here?’ It’s tough, but you try to block it out as much as possible.”
Some of the information is coming from a close source.
“My mom’s the worst,” he said with a grin. “I have to calm her down. ‘Mom, calm down, I can’t do anything about it.’”
Taijuan Walker, one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball, will be recalled by the Mariners on Wednesday and start the afternoon’s 12:40 p.m. PT series finale against the Mets at Safeco Field.
The 21-year-old right-hander made two starts for Seattle earlier this month, going 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA, before being sent back to Triple-A Tacoma to stay sharp over the All-Star break. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon expressed some unhappiness with Walker’s initial outing in Tacoma, but the hard-throwing California native will be given another opportunity now to show if he’s ready for the big leagues.
Walker, the sixth-rated prospect in baseball by MLB.com, said he understood McClendon’s concern after he needed 83 pitches to get through a five-inning outing.
“Obviously I need to be better,” Walker said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to be better, too. I wasn’t pleased with my start. So definitely, stuff like that is just motivation because I know I need to be better and they expect me to be better. I just take that as motivation and will take it into my next start.”
Walker went 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his two recent starts for the Rainiers, but had just two strikeouts with four walks in 10 innings. He said his fastball command, which was a problem in his last start for Seattle when he walked five in four innings against the White Sox, is something he’s found some answers for in recent bullpen sessions.
“Watching video from last year and this year, it’s just my lower half, there’s no drive and no legs in it,” he said. “When I did use my legs, I was flying open. I didn’t have a consistent release point. I worked on that in my last bullpen and felt different. I felt like I was able to explode and finish everything out front instead of side to side.”
McClendon pondered giving Wednesday’s start to reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, who has been stretched out up to four innings as a long man and made a spot start just before the All-Star break. But he said his bullpen “has been taxed” in recent days and moving Wilhelmsen out of that role didn’t make sense.
“Obviously it still intrigues me about Wilhelmsen, but we just can’t do it right now,” McClendon said. “The Anaheim series was just too grueling for us. We’re going to back off a little bit.”
McClendon has indicated Wilhelmsen might be looked at in a starting role next spring, but he won’t push to make that transition any sooner.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen three weeks from now, but as we speak now, that’s not in the plans, no,” he said.
Walker said he just wants to get on a consistent schedule now after an up-and-down first four months due to injury and his recent demotion.
“I definitely just want to get on a routine and just roll with it,” he said. “It kind of sucks being out for a couple weeks, getting back and then shut down again, back up and down. It’d be nice to pitch well and start getting on a roll.”
The Mariners will need to make a roster move to open a spot for Walker and likely will send Erasmo Ramirez back to Tacoma after his Tuesday night start against the Mets.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said All-Star closer Fernando Rodney won’t pitch in Monday’s series opener against the Mets, but that decision had nothing to do with the finish of Sunday’s 6-5 setback in Anaheim when Rodney took the loss in the ninth inning after shooting an imaginary arrow toward the Angels dugout after getting out of a tough jam in the eighth.
After Rodney pitched an inning in Saturday’s 12-inning win and then was called on to attempt a five-out save on Sunday, McClendon gave him Monday off and indicated Danny Farquhar would serve as the closer if needed.
But as for the “arrow situation?” McClendon said the Angels’ winning rally had a lot more to do with Rodney having to face Mike Trout and Albert Pujols leading off the ninth than any perceived slight from his arrow routine.
“I heard somebody say that fired the Angels up and gave them incentive to win the game,” McClendon said prior to Monday’s series opener with the Mets. “That’s a bunch of baloney. They understand the importance of these games as well as we do. The fact is, they had the best all-around player in the game leading off and a Hall of Famer hitting behind him. That had a lot to do with them winning the game, not Rodney’s arrow shooting.”
What did McClendon think of the imaginary arrow, which Rodney normally shoots into the air after he finishes off a save?
“This is a business of entertainment,” McClendon said. “Players hit doubles and I don’t know all the signs they do and all that [standing on second base], but everybody has celebrations in the dugout. Rodney shooting the arrow is no different. In the old days, if you didn’t like it, go out and fight. They don’t do that anymore.”
McClendon said the loss was about baseball, not arrows.
“We lost the game. That’s all that matters,” he said. “We hit a line drive that was snagged for a double play. They hit two ground balls back up the middle that found a hole and they won two out of three.”
You want a controversy from McClendon? The Mariners skipper preferred to point out a checked swing call on Howie Kendrick that didn’t get called in the seventh inning against Yoervis Medina, after which Kendrick laced a run-scoring single. He thinks the new replay system should be expanded to include checked swings.
“If you really want to talk about replays and what should be replayed, if you really think about it, that has a lot more impact than a lot of things, particularly with the game on the line,” McClendon said. “We had two checked swings earlier in that series, one on [Kyle] Seager where he barely took the bat off his shoulder and it was strike three. They just need to be consistent with it and I think it cost us a ballgame yesterday.”
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will be recalled by the Mariners and start Tuesday night’s game against the Mets at Safeco Field, filling a rotation spot that has been open since Taijuan Walker was sent down prior to the All-Star break.
Ramirez, 24, has gone 1-4 with a 4.58 ERA in 11 starts for Seattle in previous stints with the club this season. The youngster from Nicaragua is 2-4 with a 4.12 ERA in nine starts for Tacoma.
The Mariners haven’t listed a starter yet for Wednesday’s series finale with the Mets, though they’ve announced they’ll push veteran right-handers Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez back a day.
Walker pitched five innings of one-run ball for Tacoma on Friday at Reno, so he’d be available to throw on regular rest on Wednesday if the Mariners choose to recall him.
Iwakuma will start Thursday’s series opener with the Orioles, with Hernandez now slated to pitch Friday, followed by Chris Young and Roenis Elias on Saturday and Sunday.
Ramirez will be officially added to the 25-man roster on Tuesday, when the club will need to make another move to clear his spot.
Rookie outfielder Stefen Romero was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners on Thursday and will travel with the team to Anaheim for Friday’s series opener to start the second half of the season.
Left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge was optioned back to Triple-A to make room on the 25-man roster.
Romero, 25, hit .283 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 11 games for Tacoma after being sent down on June 29. He hit .196 with 11 extra-base hits, including three home runs, and 11 RBIs in 51 games for Seattle to start the season.
Luetge, 27, was recalled from Tacoma on July 10 to give the Mariners an extra reliever in their all-bullpen start against the Twins. He pitched one scoreless inning in that day’s 4-2 loss to the Twins, but didn’t appear in the weekend series against the A’s.
Luetge has been with the Mariners on three different stints this season and has a 5.40 ERA in 3 1/3 innings over four games. He’s 3-1 with two saves and a 3.40 ERA in 26 outings with Tacoma.
Romero provides a right-handed hitting outfielder for a club that has been shy in that department since designating Cole Gillespie for assignment on July 4. The only full-time outfielders on the club since then have been left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley, James Jones, Endy Chavez and Michael Saunders, who is now on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique injury.
The Mariners also announced they’ve transferred the rehab assignment of right-hander pitcher Blake Beavan from Class-A High Desert to Tacoma. Beavan has been out since mid-April with a shoulder injury, but made one two-inning start for High Desert last week.
Manager Lloyd McClendon has set his pitching rotation for the Mariners coming out of the All-Star break, but those plans conspicuously don’t include top prospect Taijuan Walker just yet.
Hisashi Iwakuma will start Friday’s series opener in Anaheim, with Felix Hernandez pitching Saturday to give him an extra day after Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
McClendon said veteran right-hander Chris Young will start Sunday’s series finale in Anaheim, with rookie southpaw Roenis Elias facing the Mets when Seattle opens a seven-game homestand on Monday, July 21.
But McClendon said his fifth starter – which was expected to be Walker – was still not determined. The 21-year-old was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma to make two starts to stay fresh over the break, but his manager didn’t sound pleased with Walker’s approach after he threw five innings in a 7-2 victory over Fresno on Saturday night.
Walker allowed four hits with one run, one walk and one strikeout in that contest and is slated to pitch again Thursday in Reno. That would line him up to return the following Tuesday against the Mets on normal schedule, but McClendon wasn’t in the mood to praise Walker when asked about what appeared on paper to be a pretty good start for the youngster.
“I guess I see things differently than most people,” McClendon said. “I don’t see that as a good outing. Five innings, 83 pitches and one strikeout, that’s not a good outing to me. And I’m not trying to bash the kid.
“But how we go about our business and the level of expectations from the Minor Leagues all the way up to the big leagues, it’s got to change. Five innings, 83 pitches, one strikeout, that’s not a good outing. I’m sorry. Not for me. And you can write it. I’m sure his agent will be calling, mad at me. But we’ve got to do better.”
Walker was expected to challenge for a rotation berth coming out of Spring Training this year, but missed considerable time with a sore shoulder. He was finally called up from Tacoma at the end of June and went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in two starts before being sent back down rather than make his expected start Saturday against the A’s so that the Mariners could give the veteran Young the final game of the first half instead.
Mariners closer Fernando Rodney, who leads the American League with 27 saves and has helped solidify the league’s best bullpen with his 1.98 ERA in 38 appearances, was added to the American League All-Star team on Saturday as the replacement for Rays starter David Price.
“I’m going to have fun. I’ll throw my arrow. No matter what inning I pitch, I’ll throw it,” said Rodney, who pulls out his imaginary bow after every save.
Price originally was slated to throw Saturday, but was pushed back to Sunday due to illness and thus opted out of Tuesday’s All-Star Game in order to avoid pitching on just one day’s rest.
Rodney drew the call from Red Sox manager John Farrell, giving the Mariners four All-Star representatives as he joins Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager to give Seattle its largest contingent since five Seattle players were chosen in 2003.
“When you see something happen like that, you have to understand what’s going on,” Rodney said of his late addition. “I knew I had maybe the numbers to be there. I’m happy to be there with that group of people.”
The AL squad now includes six relievers, as Rodney joins Kansas City’s Greg Holland (24 saves, 1.87 ERA), Minnesota’s Glen Perkins (22 saves, 3.05 ERA), Oakland’s Sean Doolittle (13 saves, 2.98 ERA), New York’s Dellin Betances (1 save, 1.46 ERA) and Boston’s Koji Uehara (18 saves, 1.65 ERA), who was added to the team to take the place of injured Yankees starter Yasahiro Tanaka.
Rodney was also an All-Star in 2012 with the Rays when he had 25 saves and a 0.93 ERA at the break on the way to a career-best 48-win, 0.60 ERA season when he was AL Comeback Player of the Year and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting.
That year, he accompanied Price as the Rays’ representatives. This year, he’s replacing his former teammate.
“He gave me a break,” Rodney said. “I love him.”
Rodney’s 27 saves are the most for any Mariner closer prior to the All-Star break, with Kazahiro Sasaki having 29 in 2001 on the way to his franchise-record 45 in that 116-win season.
The 2003 Mariners team landed five All-Stars with Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Bret Boone. Since then, the most Seattle selections until this was three in 2011 when Hernandez, Brandon League and Michael Pineda made the team.
First baseman Justin Smoak was recalled by the Mariners and inserted into Friday night’s lineup against the A’s after the club placed outfielder Michael Saunders on the 15-day disabled list.
Saunders strained his left oblique during an at-bat in the eighth inning of Thursday’s 4-2 loss to the Twins. An MRI test on Friday revealed the strained muscle in Saunders’ stomach and the 27-year-old will now be sidelined at least until July 25, which means he’ll miss a minimum of 11 games around the All-Star break.
It’s the second DL stint of the season for Saunders, who was previously sidelined from June 12-27 with inflammation in his right shoulder. Saunders was hitting .276 with six home runs and 28 RBIs in 65 games, including a .313 mark with five homers and 21 RBIs in 31 games since May 16.
Smoak was recalled from Tacoma after batting .284 with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs in 19 games. He initially was sent down to the Rainiers on a rehab assignment after being placed on the disabled list with a strained left quad on June 11, but remained in Tacoma when the Mariners chose to stay with Logan Morrison at first base.
But Smoak has heated up in the 10 games with Tacoma, hitting .325 with a double and two home runs. He’s hit .632 (12-for-19) with two home runs in his last four games.
Smoak, who was back in the lineup at first base for Friday’s series opener with the A’s, hit .208 with seven home runs in 63 games with Seattle before going on the DL.
There seems to be some confusion as to why Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is going with a bullpen day tonight in the series finale with the Twins, with Tom Wilhelmsen making his first Major League start.
But McClendon’s reasoning is simple. He wanted to push ace right-hander Felix Hernandez’s final start before the All-Star break back one day so he could face the division-rival A’s instead of going Thursday on normal rest.
McClendon says there were several thoughts behind that decision, not the least of which was lining his best pitcher up against one of the team’s currently ahead of them in the playoff chase.
“It’s a combination of things,” McClendon said. “It gives him an extra day’s rest, it gives me my best pitchers against our divisional rival and it also sets thing up for the second half.”
The Mariners also will skip 21-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker’s normal start on Saturday, instead lining up veterans Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young to pitch the final two weekend games before the All-Star break. But McClendon said he’s not turning the series against Oakland into an all-or-nothing situation.
“I’m really not. I’m just doing what any other manager would do at the end of the first half,” he said. “You have an opportunity to put your best and most-experienced pitchers out there, you do it. Whether it’s Oakland or Pittsburgh or anybody else. You just put your best out there to finish up the first half. I learned a long time ago, you don’t put importance on one series. What happens if we get swept? The season is over? That’s why you don’t do that. My motto is take one day at a time and I mean that. It sounds cliché, but that’s the way I feel. One day at a time.”
But clearly the Mariners feel better about that day if Hernandez is on the mound. The 28-year-old is having the best first half of his 10-year career and was just named to his fifth All-Star game, where he’s a prime contender to be the starting pitcher for the American League.
Hernandez is 10-2 with a 2.11 ERA and has a shot to break a Mariners record for the lowest ERA prior to the All-Star break of 2.20 set by Randy Johnson in 1997.
Hernandez is 17-7 with a 2.64 ERA in 32 career starts against Oakland, including 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in three outings this year. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner downplayed the impact of having his start shifted so he could face the A’s once again.
“It’s good for me, but I just have to go out there and do my job,” Hernandez said. “It’s no different than any other game. I just have to give my team a chance to win. That’s all I’ve got to do.”
After sitting out the first two games of the Twins series, veteran Endy Chavez is back in the leadoff role for Wednesday night’s contest with the Twins as manager Lloyd McClendon looks to re-ignite an offense that scored just two runs in those two games.
Chavez is hitting .245 for the season, but he’s batted .281 over his last 18 games. And in the 19 games he’s led off this season, the 36-year-old is 10-for-19 (.526) in his first at-bat.
The Mariners are 20-9 when Chavez has appeared in a game and McClendon acknowledges the spark that the 170-pounder has provided.
“He’s a veteran guy that gives your lineup a little presence,” McClendon said. “He’s not a power guy by any means, but he’s done a nice job for us.”