Taijuan Walker sharp again in second AFL start

Houston Astros v Seattle MarinersMariners right-hander Taijuan Walker made his second straight strong start in the Arizona Fall League with five innings of one-run ball as the Surprise Saguaros lost a 7-4 decision to Salt River on Monday in Surprise, Ariz.

Walker, regarded as one of the top young pitchers in baseball, allowed just two hits with two walks, a hit batter and six strikeouts while throwing 77 pitches.

Walker outpitched Salt River’s Archie Bradley, the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2011 Draft, as the 22-year-old Diamondbacks right-hander gave up five hits and three runs in three innings.

Walker, also 22, was the 43rd overall pick in 2010 as a compensation-round selection by the Mariners. He is expected to start six games and pitch about 25-30 innings in the AFL as the Mariners look to get him some extra work after missing the first two months of the season with shoulder issues.

Walker has a 2.00 ERA in two AFL starts (two earned runs in nine innings) after going 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight appearances for Seattle this past season and 7-4 with a 4.37 ERA in 16 Minor League outings.

Just as in his first AFL game, Walker wound up with a no-decision after turning a lead over to his bullpen. This time Surprise coughed up a 4-1 advantage as Salt River scored six times in the top of the seventh off Padres prospect Tayron Guerrero.

Surprise is now 3-3 after the first week of the 32-game season. Mariners position prospects D.J. Peterson, Patrick Kivlehan and John Hicks all played in Monday’s outing as well. Peterson was 0-for-4 and is now batting .231 as the team’s primary third baseman. Kivlehan played first base again and went 1-for-4 with a walk to put his average at .238, while Hicks was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored as the young catcher is hitting .273.

Matt Brazis, one of three Mariners relievers on the staff, replaced Guerrero with two outs in the seventh and gave up a hit and Guerrero’s final run before ending the six-run uprising with a strikeout. Brazis then retired the side in order in the eighth with two more strikeouts.

Center fielder Rusney Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72 million deal with the Red Sox out of Cuba in August, went 2-for-5 with an RBI double and leads Surprise with a .350 batting average in his first four games. Each team in the AFL is made up of top prospects from five Major League franchises.

Qualifying offer price for 2015 increases to $15.3M

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland IndiansWhile MLB narrows its focus on the field this week, with the American League Championship Series now set between the Orioles and Royals and the NLCS down to the Cardinals against the winner of the Giants-Nationals series, the business of business of baseball continues for all 30 teams as the offseason gets underway.

And one of the first orders of business was determining the new qualifying offer figure, which will be $15.3 million, as announced Tuesday, based on the average salary of the top 125 paid players in the game.

That’s another significant hike from the original $13.3 million after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement introduced the qualifying offer plan in 2013 and the $14.1 million from last year. What will be interesting now is to see how players — and teams — deal with qualifying offers this offseason after Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew turned down the $14.1M last year and then wound up having to sit out the first two months of the season before struggling upon their late arrivals.

Of the 22 players who received qualifying offers in the first two years of the system, all 22 have rejected the guaranteed one-year deal and pursued free agency. But with the Draft pick compensation tied to those players, the lower tier of those qualified free agents have discovered a tough market and Morales and Drew both paid a pretty good price for rejecting the one-year deals.

Thus it will be interesting to see how things play out this offseason, with clubs having until the fifth day after the completion of the World Series to extend qualifying offers.

This isn’t a scenario that will impact the Mariners as directly this winter, however. Offering Morales a qualifying offer last year was a no-brainer. With Scott Boras as his agent, the veteran DH made it clear he was setting a high market for himself by turning down multi-year deals with Seattle in the three-year, $30 million range. The Mariners knew he would turn down a qualifying offer, so it was an easy choice to make him that offer and give themselves a chance to recoup a high draft pick in return if he signed elsewhere.

As it turned out, Morales and Boras misread the market, he didn’t sign anywhere else until after the June Draft and Seattle wound up with no draft pick compensation. In the ultimate twist, they wound up acquiring Morales by trade from the Twins for reliever Stephen Pryor six weeks later, a move that didn’t pay great dividends when Morales hit just .207 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 59 games with Seattle.

There’ll be no repeat scenario of the qualifying offer to Morales this winter and not just because he played poorly in 2014. Players traded in-season can’t be extended qualifying offers. So Morales, one of seven Mariners headed to free agency upon conclusion of the World Series, will be free to go wherever he wants.

Morales has expressed interest in staying in Seattle, but he said the same thing last season and then turned down some pretty good offers. This time I find it extremely unlikely the Mariners will pursue Morales’ return unless his price drops dramatically and other options fall through.

The Mariners certainly will have interest in retaining some of their other pending free agents, but none fall anywhere near the salary structure that would call for a qualifying offer. Reliever Joe Beimel is a solid bet to return, but he made the team as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal last spring and won’t break the bank. Same story with outfielder Endy Chavez, who has made the team on Minor League deals the past two seasons.

Veteran right-hander Chris Young figures to be the most-pursued of Seattle’s free agents after his strong comeback season, going 12-7 with a 3.85 ERA in 30 outings. Young certainly improved his negotiating strength with his first healthy season since 2007 and will cost a lot more than the $1.5 million base salary he played on this year, but he’s certainly not a $15.3 million qualifying offer candidate with his injury history.

Seattle’s other free agents are outfielder Chris Denorfia, catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who spent the year on the restricted list. Again, none of those three are big-money targets, nor was DH Corey Hart, who already became a free agent after being designated for assignment.

So the Mariners won’t play the qualifying offer game with their own players, though it’s possible they’ll pursue other teams qualified free agents. They did it last year with Robinson Cano, sacrificing their own top non-protected Draft pick to land the biggest free agent on the market.

Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (pictured) figures to be in that boat this winter and surely the Mariners will be one of the many pursuers for his right-handed bat, though that competition — and price — figure to be steep. Do the Mariners have a chance? Sure. After seeing Cano come to Seattle a year ago, it would be foolish to think otherwise. But Martinez will have lots of options, including staying in Detroit, so its extremely premature to even speculate on those possibilities.

Who else figures to be in the qualifying offer category? It seems likely that starting pitchers James Shields from the Royals, Max Scherzer of the Tigers and Ervin Santana of the Braves will draw the one-year guaranteed offer of $15.3 million, along with outfielders Nelson Cruz of the Orioles and Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays, shortstops Hanley Ramirez of the Dodgers and J.J. Hardy of the Orioles, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Pirates catcher Russell Martin and Yankees closer David Robertson.

Others may join that list, but those 11 are a pretty solid starting point for discussion. Cruz turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer last year from the Rangers, wound up settling for an $8 million deal with the Orioles and then put up an AL-leading 40 home runs with 108 RBIs for Baltimore.

So, yeah, it’s an interesting game within the game to watch this winter. And the price of business was set at $15.3 million.

Walker throws well, Kivlehan homers in AFL opener

TaijuanBulllpenTaijuan Walker threw four innings of one-run ball and fellow Mariners prospect Patrick Kivlehan homered as the Surprise Saguaros opened the Arizona Fall League with a 5-4 loss to the Peoria Javelinas on Tuesday in Surprise, Ariz.

Walker, one of the top young arms in baseball, allowed five hits with no walks and five strikeouts in a 57-pitch start and left with a 3-1 lead. The Mariners would like the 22-year-old to get 20-25 innings of work in the AFL after missing the first half of this past season with shoulder problems that limited him to 120 1/3 innings overall, including 38 with Seattle.

Walker was 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight appearances for Seattle and 7-4 with a 4.37 ERA in 16 Minor League starts, with 14 of those coming with Triple-A Tacoma.

Kivlehan, a 24-year-old infielder who played football at Rutgers before getting drafted by the Mariners in the fourth-round in 2012, opened his second AFL season with a 1-for-4 outing that included a solo home run in the third inning off Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 Draft.

Kivlehan split this past season between Class-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, hitting .293 with 20 home runs and 103 RBIs, with 104 of his 138 games coming at Jackson. Kivlehan played first base in Tuesday’s game, with fellow Mariners prospect D.J. Peterson opening at third base and going 1-for-3 with an RBI double and a walk.

Peterson, Seattle’s first-round Draft pick in 2013, is the No. 49 rated prospect in baseball by MLB.com and was named Seattle’s co-Minor League Hitter of the Year after putting up a .297 average with 31 homers and 111 RBIs in 123 games with High Desert and Jackson.

Catcher John Hicks, the Mariners other position player on the Saguaros squad, went 1-for-3 with a walk and picked a runner off first base. Hicks, 25, split last season between Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma and hit a combined .290 with five homers and 47 RBIs in 81 games.

Right-hander Stephen Landazuri, one of three other Mariners prospects on the pitching staff, took the loss after giving up four hits and three runs in the eighth inning.  The 22-year-old was 6-5 with a 4.33 ERA in 19 starts for Jackson this year.

The AFL consists of six teams with each squad made up of prospects from five different Major League clubs, with each team playing 32 games from now through Nov. 13.

Hultzen on the mend, plus other postseason news

Hultzen, DannyLeft-hander Danny Hultzen, who missed all of this past season following rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder, threw well in his third Instructional League outing in the last few weeks on Tuesday and now will be shut down until next spring, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.

Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft, had major shoulder surgery exactly one year ago on Oct. 1 and spent all this season building his arm back up and rehabbing at the Mariners facility in Peoria, Ariz. He capped off that effort with a 25-pitch outing in a game against young prospects in front of many of the Mariners top baseball people and reports were positive.

“They said it was really impressive,” Zduriencik said. “He feels really good and is now shut down. He’s finished for the fall. He showed an average fastball, really good curve and changeup. He was confident and his delivery is sound. So he’ll go home and come back in January and be ready for Spring Training.”

Will the 24-year-old be full go at that point?

“He should be,” Zduriencik said. “We were real cautions. There was some talk of putting him in the Fall League, but we’re going to back off a little. This kid has been through a lot this year. The fact he’s been on the mound in Instructional League is enough. There’ll be a challenge for him next year regardless of how he reports physically, where is he going to be innings-wise after missing a whole year like this.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon is maintaining a conservative approach, knowing the youngsters threw just 35 2/3 innings in 2013 and then missed all of this season. But he’s encouraged by the news as well.

“I’m excited about him,” McClendon said. “And we’ll see going into spring. Listen, is he going to make this club next year? Probably not. But is he on his way back? Yeah. And that’s exciting because this young man is as good as any of them when he’s healthy. We just have to get him back to that point where he can go out and compete every five days.

“We’re not counting on him, no,” said McClendon. “But having said that, it’s going to be pretty exciting to see him out there on that mound, no question.”

Zduriencik and McClendon met with the media in a postseason wrapup session Tuesday and talked at length about their offseason plans and needs and a bigger budget to work with in 2015. I have a full story on that up now here on Mariners.com, which of course is where you can always go for your Mariners news.

In the meantime, here’s some  other newsy nuggets to come out today:

– None of the club’s Major League players are expected to need any surgeries heading into the offseason, though outfielder Dustin Ackley will be seeing a specialist to determine what might be done to help his troublesome left ankle. McClendon said outfield coach Andy Van Slyke will be having surgery to repair a knee issue that forced him to the bench in the final months as Chris Woodward took over as first-base coach.

– Left-hander Roenis Elias is doing fine after being shut down late in the season with some elbow soreness. He’ll spend the offseason at his home in Texas and do the normal offseason throwing program before reporting to camp next spring.

Taijuan Walker will pitch a few games in the Arizona Fall League, but James Paxton won’t throw competitively this offseason after returning for the season’s final two months, Zduriencik said.

– McClendon said his entire coaching staff will be returning next year. John Stearns, who stepped down as third-base coach just prior to the start of Spring Training after having hiatal hernia surgery, will remain in the organization in a scouting role, according to Zduriencik.

–  Butch Baccala, the national cross checker involved in the Jesus Montero incident in September, has been dismissed by the club. Devitt Moore, who was working as an area scout for the Mariners this season, will be promoted to take Baccala’s position.

–  Montero returned to the Mariners 40-man roster on Monday as he was taken off the suspended list. Zduriencik said he’ll spend the offseason in Arizona with his wife and child.

“He’s there now going through a program that should help him in many areas, on the field and off,” Zduriencik said. “He’ll be at the complex every day. He’s working out twice a day right now and will be under our supervision most of the winter. Hopefully the negative here turns out to be a positive.”

Zduriencik said about 10 young Mariners will likely play Winter Ball in Venezuela. He doesn’t expect Montero to be one of those at this time, “but let’s wait and see. There’s other issues we need to deal with there first.

– Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who spent the past year on the Mariners restricted list, has expressed some interest in returning.

“He’s in Florida, working out. He has some interest in coming back next year. We’re going to talk to him and we’ll see what happens,” Zduriencik said. “He left in a good frame of mind. We’ll have to see where it’s at, but he’s spoken to our guys more than once about his desire in coming back next year. It would be as a non-roster player.”

Hart DFA’d to make room on 40-man for Montero

Hart, CoreyVeteran designated hitter Corey Hart was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Monday in a move necessitated by the activation of first baseman Jesus Montero off the suspended list.

Montero had to be returned to the 40-man roster the day after the end of the regular season following his suspension by the club on Sept. 1. That put the Mariners at 41 players on their Major League roster, so Hart was designated for assignment.

Hart would have become a free agent after the end of the World Series, along with Seattle’s other pending free agents, so the move just speeds up his process of being able to negotiate with teams.

Seattle’s other free agents will be pitchers Joe Beimel and Chris Young, outfielders Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia, catcher Humberto Quintero and designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez also becomes a free agent after spending the year on Seattle’s restricted list following his decision to not report to camp last February.

Hart, 32, hit .203 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 68 games after signing a one-year deal. The two-time National League All-Star spent a good part of the season on the disabled list with a hamstring strain and then knee issues after missing all of 2013 with the Brewers following microfracture surgeries on both knees.

Montero, 24, was on an injury rehab assignment with Class-A Everett for a strained oblique muscle when he got into a verbal altercation with Mariners scout Butch Baccala at a Northwest League game. The Mariners then placed him on the suspended list for the remainder of the season.

Baccala was pulled off his scouting duties at that time by general manager Jack Zduriencik and has since been dismissed by the organization.

Montero spent most of the season with Triple-A Tacoma where he batted .286 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs in 364 at-bats in 97 games. He played six games for the Mariners and had one home run and two RBIs with a .235 average in 17 at-bats.

Walker would likely be Monday starter … if it gets there

Mariners at RoyalsMariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t want to talk about his potential pitching for Monday aif Seattle forces a Game 163 tiebreaker with the A’s when he met with the media prior to Sunday’s regular-season finale, but by all logic that start would fall to rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker.

The 22-year-old would be pitching on his normal fifth day after throwing a career-best eight innings of one run ball in a 1-0 loss on Wednesday in Toronto. The A’s would definitely go with ace Jon Lester, who would pitch on normal rest. If needed, that game will be at 1:07 p.m. PT at Safeco Field.

A Game 163 tiebreaker will only be needed if the A’s lose to Texas on Sunday and the Mariners win their finale against the Angels.

Seattle’s top three current starters – Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton – all pitched in the previous three games and thus won’t be ready to throw again unless the Mariners make it to the American League Division Series starting on Thursday.

That’s all conjecture at this point, obviously, but it’s interesting conjecture. Most interesting would be how McClendon would handle the Wild Card game on Tuesday, which would either be in Kansas City or Detroit at 5:07 p.m. PT, should his team keep advancing.

The Mariners went with a bullpen day, with Tom Wilhelmsen starting, in that spot in the order in Toronto on Thursday. Veteran Chris Young might be the best option for Tuesday as he hasn’t pitched since Sept. 20, after which he was pulled from the rotation following some late-season struggles that McClendon believes were a sign of fatigue in his first year back from shoulder issues.

Iwakuma would only be available Tuesday if he was brought a day early and that seems unlikely, given he was pulled from his last start after feeling something in his side after 80 pitches.

But first things first, which is definitely the approach McClendon was taking prior to Sunday’s game.

“I’m worried about today,” he said. “That’s it. All hands on deck and we’ll see what happens. Tomorrow we’ll worry about tomorrow.”

Walker knows his turn could come Monday if the cards fall right, however, and he’s eager and ready.

“After my last start, I was, ‘Okay, two days and then a bullpen. Just be ready,’” Walker said. “Be ready for anything that happens. I kept my same routine just in case of something like this. I’m ready to keep going. I don’t want to stop pitching. I want to keep rolling.”

Scoring change gives Felix shot at AL ERA title

Minnesota Twins v Seattle Mariners A scoring change by Major League Baseball giving an error to Felix Hernandez on a dropped bunt in his ill-fated fifth inning in his last start in Toronto has given the Mariners ace a chance at the American League ERA title.

Hernandez was originally charged with a career-high seven earned runs in the inning, raising his ERA to 2.34 with one start remaining in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Angels. But the scoring change removes four of the earned runs from that frame, giving him four earned runs out of the eight allowed total in Tuesday’s 10-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

Thus Hernandez’s ERA is now at 2.18, one tick behind the league-leading 2.17 of Chris Sale of the White Sox. Sale is finished for the season.

“That’s nice,” Hernandez said of his new life at the ERA crown. “That was an error, for sure. I should have made that play. It was an error.”

Hernandez had the lowest ERA in the AL in his Cy Young Award season in 2010 at 2.27 and now has a shot both at a new career low and a second ERA title. How much would having the lowest ERA in the league mean to him?

“I’m always thinking about it every year,” said the 10-year veteran. “Every year I’m trying to be one of the best in the league. I’ve got one more [start]. I’ve got to do it.”

The play in question came after Hernandez gave up a leadoff homer to Dalton Pompey and a double by Anthony Gose. Josh Thole then dropped a bunt down the third base line and Hernandez went to field it, but didn’t pick the ball up cleanly and Thole was safe at first.

Hernandez went on to allow a sacrifice fly, single, two walks, a single, a run scoring ground out and another walk before being replaced with two out. Reliever Dominic Leone gave up a two-run single to allow Hernandez’s final two runs to score.

As they do with any questionable scoring decision, the Mariners baseball operations department submitted the play to MLB for review and the decision to change it came back Saturday.

“Rightfully so,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said before Saturday’s game with the Angels. “Our guys did a good job sending that in. It’s an error. It’s a play you should make. If you ask Felix, he’d tell you, ‘Yeah, I should make that play.’ It was right there. He just came up on it. I’m happy for Felix and he’s got an opportunity tomorrow to win an ERA title.”

Without the change, Hernandez would have needed to pitch 16 scoreless innings to get his ERA down to Sale’s 2.17, which obviously wasn’t going to happen with just one start remaining. McClendon acknowledged the timing of the decision made for an interesting circumstance.

“It is,” he said. “But it was the right call. I don’t think there was any inside favors or anything. It was the right call to make and it was a pretty simple cal, really, if you think about it. And he’s got an opportunity as a result.”

McClendon expects Felix to pitch finale

Minnesota Twins v Seattle MarinersWith the Mariners still mathematically alive for the final American League Wild Card berth, manager Lloyd McClendon said Wednesday he expects Felix Hernandez to make his final scheduled start on Sunday afternoon against the Angels.

“That could change, but as we speak now, I fully expect him to pitch,” McClendon said prior to facing the Blue Jays in the third of four games in their last road trip of the year.

The Mariners currently have Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Hernandez lined up to pitch the final three-game series at home against Anaheim this weekend.

Hernandez gave up a season-high eight runs in 4 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s 10-2 loss to Toronto as his ERA rose to 2.34, second in the American League to Chris Sale.

Sale made his final start Wednesday for the White Sox, taking a no-decision after allowing one run in six innings in a 6-1 loss to Detroit, as he finished the year with a 2.17 ERA. Even if Hernandez throws nine shutout innings in his finale, his ERA would only drop to 2.25.

Hernandez is currently second in the AL to David Price in innings pitched at 230 2/3, surpassing the 230 mark for the fifth time in the past six years.

The Mariners ace is 14-6 with his 2.34 ERA and a league-leading 0.97 WHIP. He has the second-lowest opponent’s batting average at .203 and is fourth in the AL with a career-high 241 strikeouts.

Indians ace Corey Kluber is regarded as his primary challenger for AL Cy Young honors. With one remaining start, Kluber is 17-3 with a 2.53 ERA and a league-leading 258 strikeouts in 227 2/3 innings with a 1.10 WHIP and .235 opponent’s batting average.

Sale is certainly also in the mix, but he missed time early in the season and has made seven less starts than Hernandez. In 26 starts, the White Sox’s lefty went 12-4 with his 2.17 ERA and 208 strikeouts in 174 innings. He has a 0.97 WHIP and .204 opponents batting average.

Cano says there’s still time for Mariners

Cano, Robinson 2Robinson Cano knows the Mariners have missed opportunities the last week to make a significant mark in the American League Wild Card race, but he said prior to Tuesday’s game with the Blue Jays that there’s still plenty of fight left in his club.

“We have six games and we have to get after every single game if we want to get there,” said Cano, whose club is two games behind the Royals for the AL’s final berth. “A lot of things can happen, so we just have to keep fighting and grinding.”

While many of his young teammates are in their first playoff push, Cano played 51 postseason games in seven different years for the Yankees. He knows the intensity is ratcheted up at these times and the Mariners have to respond.

“The key is you have to focus more than just regular games,” he said. “The playoffs is what we’re doing now. You can’t leave men on base, you can’t miss opportunities, you have to do the little things because these games, we’re like 2-3 games behind and we’re in a situation now where we have to win every game.”

A lot of people wondered why Cano left the Yankees for a team that hadn’t been in the postseason since 2001, but Seattle has been a contender to the end and still has a shot. His former club is two games back of Seattle and in even more dire straits.

Cano is pleased with the big picture and the progress the Mariners have made, but isn’t ready to concede anything yet.

“We have to be satisfied with this year, but we’re not out of the race until we’re eliminated,” he said. “We can win the next five or six games and anything can happen. We just have to stay focused.”

McClendon taking Chris Young out of rotation

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red SoxAfter giving up four home runs in his last start, Mariners veteran Chris Young will not be in the rotation for his next scheduled outing on Thursday, manager Lloyd McClendon said Monday prior to the opening game of a four-game set in Toronto.

McClendon hasn’t named a starter yet for the series finale against the Blue Jays, only saying Young is moving to the bullpen after some late-season struggles that the manager believes are a sign of fatigue. The 35-year-old right-hander is 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 outings and remains a strong candidate for American League Comeback Player of the Year after not pitching in the Majors last year due to shoulder problems.

But Young is 0-3 with an 8.36 ERA in his last five start and surrendered seven runs and four long balls in three-plus innings in Seattle’s 10-1 loss in Houston on Saturday. With the team in a push for an AL Wild Card berth, McClendon decided a change was needed.

“Chris has done a tremendous job for us this year,” McClendon said. “To think he’s won as many games as he’s won and gone out there as many times as he’s gone out there, coming off the type of surgery that he had, I think it’s just tremendous. I’m not sure we’d be in the position we’re in now if not for him.”

Young continues saying he feels fine physically, but the 6-foot-10 veteran has thrown 165 innings, which is by far the most he’s thrown in a year since his last fully healthy season in 2007 when he was a National League All-Star with the Padres.

“I think he’s probably out of gas from the starting standpoint,” McClendon said. “Having said that, 8-10 days from now, who knows?”

Young acknowledges he had some fatigue several weeks ago, which is why McClendon pushed back several starts to give him extra rest. But he said he felt better recently when he allowed just two runs in 11 innings to the A’s and Rangers before his poor showing against the Astros.

“I went through a little period of dead arm and I think mechanically I got a little out of sync at that point,” Young said. “I felt better two starts ago against Oakland and pitched very well and then the other night in Houston, I had a great week of throwing going into it and one of my best bullpens of the year. It’s just sometimes it’s unpredictable. I think it’s somewhat coincidental.

“I think there’s an element of fatigue to it, but I also think if I had that start in June, we don’t talk about it as much,” he said. “It gets magnified because of the situation we’re in. If we were 15 games out, the way the club has been the last few years, it’s probably a non-issue. The timing of it was poor and that’s on me. Nobody is more disappointed than I am about it. But Lloyd has to do what’s right for the club and if that’s what is best, I’ll support him and be ready to help out however I can.”

Young said he’s not yet ready to step back and look at the big picture of what he’s accomplished this year after signing with the Mariners just days before the start of the regular season after being released by the Nationals. In his mind, his work is not finished.

“I told them I’d be ready whenever and however they needed me,” he said.

The Mariners rotation has suddenly developed some cracks after posting the best ERA in the league all season. Rookie Roenis Elias was sent back to Seattle for an MRI on his elbow after his last start and while McClendon is still waiting to hear on the results, he said Elias won’t be starting any more this season.

Veteran Hisashi Iwakuma has also struggled of late with a 9.12 ERA over his past six starts. Rookie Taijuan Walker moved into the rotation to take Elias’ spot, so the only apparent options for Thursday are Erasmo Ramirez or a bullpen effort led by Tom Wilhelmsen, who made one spot start prior to the All-Star break.

Young noted that other teams are dealing with the same situation as pitchers get fatigued at the end of the six-month season.

“If you look across the league, there are a lot of pitchers going through it,” he said. “This isn’t unique to me. I still feel healthy. I still feel strong. The execution of my pitches wasn’t great the other night, but I still felt good. I can’t argue with their reasons. They have to give the team the best chance to win. But I still believe in myself and will be ready.”

Thursday would have been Young’s final regular-season start and he would have been lined up to pitch Seattle’s first or second postseason game if the Mariners stay in rotation through the end of the regular season.


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