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.

One week to go, it’s getting to crunch time

When Sunday’s games conclude, there will be one week remaining in the regular season. Seven days to determine some close races. And none are closer than the American League’s Wild Card chase, where the A’s, Royals and Mariners were all within one game of each other entering Sunday’s play with two berths at stake.

“This is a sprint now,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. “This is fun.  Being tired or slumping, all that stuff goes out the window. Your intensity and adrenaline level are so high because of what’s at stake.”

The Indians appear to be the one team still with a shot at pushing into the three-team race as they’re three games back of Seattle going into Sunday’s play and will finish off a suspended game on Monday before their regularly scheduled series opener with the Royals, with Cleveland holding a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the 10th.

Assuming the Indians don’t blow that lead, the Royals will lose a half-game there, so Kansas City essentially is tied already with Seattle and the Indians will be 2 ½ behind Seattle. But unless the Indians win out, they’ll be hard pressed to make up that distance if the three teams above them win even three or four of their remaining games.

Here’s how Seattle’s primary competition lines up going into Sunday’s games. Three of these clubs will make the playoffs, with either Kansas City or Detroit winning the AL Central and then two of the remaining teams taking the Wild Card spots.

Detroit (86-68): at Kansas City (1), White Sox (3), Minnesota (4).

A’s (84-70): Philadelphia (1), Anaheim (3), at Texas (4).

Royals (83-70): Detroit, at Cleveland (3), at White Sox (3), plus Monday conclusion of suspended game Royals trail 4-2 in bottom of 10th vs. Indians.

Mariners (83-71): At Houston (1), at Toronto (4), Anaheim (3).

Indians (80-74): at Minnesota (1), Royals (3), Rays (3), plus Monday conclusion of suspended game Indians lead 4-2 in bottom of 10th vs. Royals..

Yankees (79-75): Toronto (1), Baltimore (4), at Boston (3).

McClendon explains decision to sit Ackley

Ackley, Dustin 2As the Mariners hit the final stretch run for their first postseason berth in 13 years, Dustin Ackley is feeling healthy again, as evidenced by a pair of home runs in Friday’s 10-5 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Ackley said the past three days are the first time in awhile he hasn’t had to favor his ankle.

“Just going on and off the field, going after balls in the gaps, running the bases or whatever, it’s nice to not have to worry about it,” he said. “It feels really great and I’m just hoping that continues the rest of the year.”

But manager Lloyd McClendon is being careful, knowing Ackley needed surgery on bone spurs in the same ankle two years ago and that he’s still favoring that foot to some degree. So McClendon didn’t have Ackley in Saturday’s lineup against tough Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, choosing to get Corey Hart’s right-handed bat in at DH and moving Logan Morrison to left field.

“Nobody sees the big picture but the manager,” McClendon said. “You have to realize we travel on a plane and that usually cause problems in itself when you’ve got a bum ankle or something. And it was a quick turnaround and he was limping a little bit last night. It concerned me a little. I really want him for [Sunday’s game against right-hander Collin McHugh] and he doesn’t hit this guy very well at all (0-for-7 vs. Keuchel). So it’s a chance to get him off his ankle. And we do have that turf (in Toronto at the end of the trip) and that scares the heck out of me.”

Ackley feels he’s “turned the corner” with his ankle and says it’s only sore in the mornings now when he first gets going. But he understands McClendon’s decision-making process.

“We had a meeting a couple weeks ago when he said if you’re not in the lineup, don’t let that be a surprise to you,” Ackley said. “We’ve got a lot of guys here that can play in big situations and Keuchel can be tough on lefties. But he can be tough on righties, too. So I’m just going to be ready whenever my name is called.”

McClendon also wanted to get Hart’s bat in the lineup against Keuchel, knowing he was 3-for-12 with two home runs off the southpaw in his career, so he shifted Morrison to left for the day.

“Short porch, Hart has two home runs off this guy and LoMo is probably a better defensive outfielder than Corey,” McClendon said. “It keeps Corey off his legs, but is also an opportunity to get his bat in in this short ballpark against the left-hander. It just makes sense.”

Ackley’s opposite field homer in the third inning Friday was a positive sign, but he took even more from an eighth-inning shot he yanked out to right field.

“Being able to pull the ball, that was something when it was hurting pretty bad that I wasn’t able to do,” said Ackley, who set a new career high with his 13th bomb of the year. “I wasn’t able to drive and really rotate off my backside, which is something you’ve got to be able to do. You can’t just go up there and not rotate. That’s pretty much the name of the game as far as hitting goes. To be able to do that consistently now and not have to worry about it, it’s a lot more comforting than before.”

Walker getting head start on rotation return in Houston

Mariners at RoyalsRookie Taijuan Walker flew ahead to Houston on Thursday as the Mariners looked to give the young right-hander a little rest for his Friday start, with Seattle not expected to arrive at its hotel in Houston until 5 or 6 a.m. on Friday thanks to a night getaway game concluding a four-game series at Angel Stadium.

Walker is returning to the rotation for the first time since July 23, filling the vacancy created by elbow tightness for rookie lefty Roenis Elias. Walker will start the series opener against the Astros’ Brad Peacock as Seattle continues an 11-game road trip that eventually wraps up in Toronto.

The hard-throwing 22-year-old is Seattle’s top pitching prospect and ranked No. 6 among all prospects by MLB.com. He made three starts earlier this season after getting a late start due to shoulder problems in Spring Training, but spent most of the second half with Triple-A Tacoma before being called up Sept. 1 to help bolster the bullpen.

Walker has a 1.93 ERA in three relief appearances this month (two earned runs in 9 1/3 innings) and is 1-2 with a 2.96 ERA in six outings for the year.

It’s been a challenging season for the youngster, who was expected to make the season-opening rotation until he arrived at camp with a sore shoulder and subsequently battled with some command issues when he did get a shot in Seattle. But he’ll have a chance now to show what he can do in at least two starts – including next Wednesday in Toronto — with the Mariners pushing for their first postseason appearance since 2001.

“Obviously with the concerns we have with Elias, it’s an opportunity for him to step up and move into the rotation,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think in a lot of ways it’s a real good experience for him. Obviously this has been a tough year for him in a lot of different ways. I think he’s starting to grow up a little bit from a mental standpoint and starting to ‘get it’, so to speak. This is good for him.”

McClendon has taken a tough-love approach with Walker this season, pushing him hard and speaking critically at times of his performances in Triple-A Tacoma. But he said he likes what he’s seen of late from Walker on the mound and with his work.

“There’s a natural progression that he needs to take and I think he’s starting to take it,” McClendon said. “Sometimes young players can believe the hype that you guys throw on them and it can get in the way of their development. I think he’s finally got to the point where he’s put that aside and he’s going out and concentrating on what is going to make him better. And that’s healthy progression, healthy growth, from a pitching standpoint.”

Elias was scheduled to pitch Sunday, but Walker has been slotted into Friday’s game since his last outing was two innings on Sunday against the A’s and this allows Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma to be pushed back to Saturday and Sunday in Houston at a time of the season when the extra day can be beneficial.

“He slots right in and the other two guys get an extra day, so it just makes sense,” McClendon said. “They need [the rest]. They all need it. This is a grind.”

Walker will be facing a familiar foe in Houston, as three of his six career starts have been against the Astros (2-0, 2.81 ERA), including his lone win this year in his season debut at Minute Maid Park in late June.

Elias flew home to Seattle for an MRI on his elbow Wednesday, but no results of the test were available yet.

Elias headed home for MRI, could be done for year

Elias, RoenisRookie southpaw Roenis Elias will fly back to Seattle on Thursday to have an MRI test on his left elbow after experiencing some stiffness in his last start and likely is done for this season, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon indicated on Wednesday.

Elias has tigntness in his flexor bundle, according to the club, which hopes to learn more after the 25-year-old returns to Seattle.

Elias said he felt some discomfort after throwing a changeup, but didn’t call McClendon to the mound. Instead, the manager and trainer saw something of concern and his night was done. Now the final two starts of Elias’ season are in jeopardy with McClendon saying Wednesday he’s “most likely” finished.

Elias is 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 29 starts and his 163 2/3 innings are the third-most of any rookie in the Majors this year behind the 165 of Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura and Tampa Bay’s Jake Odoorizzi. He’s 3-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break, but the Mariners had been carefully monitoring his workload and giving him extra rest whenever possible.

“He’s had a heck of a year,” McClendon said. “He’s had a tremendous second half. He’s done a wonderful job and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s everything we thought he was going to be.”

Elias had been slated to start again Sunday in Houston, but McClendon said he’s not sure yet who’ll fill that spot and indicated the rotation could be juggled following the Angels series finale Thursday. Rookie Taijuan Walker, the Mariners top pitching prospect, is the logical fill-in as he’s been working in the bullpen since being added as a September callup.

Walker has thrown three games in relief since Sept. 1, allowing three runs and 10 hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over 9 1/3 innings to put his season ERA at 2.96 in six outings. The Mariners wouldn’t necessarily have to wait until Sunday to slot Walker in since he’s fresh, having thrown just two innings since Sept. 7.

It’s possible they could pitch Walker in any of the upcoming games in Houston and give the other starters an extra day of rest as the club sets up for its final stretch run.

McClendon says M’s will fight through current funk

McClendon LloydDespite a three-game losing streak and just two wins in their last eight games during the most-crucial stretch of the season, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Tuesday his young club isn’t pressing in the wake of Monday’s 8-1 loss to the Angels to open an 11-game road trip.

The Mariners certainly could use some timely hitting as they’ve gone 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position in their last two games heading into Tuesday’s battle with an Angels club whose magic number for clinching the American League West is down to three games.

Seattle entered the night two games back of the Royals for the final AL Wild Card spot, but McClendon said there’s no cloud gathering over his club.

“They’re not tight. They’re just going through a funk,” he said. “We just have to keep battling and fighting our way through it. The Oakland A’s went through it and we didn’t think a thing about it. We were happy about it. And I’m sure they’re happy about our little funk. It happens. We just have to keep fighting and grinding it out and we’ll come around.”

The Mariners were 71-91 last season and haven’t been in the postseason since 2001, so they’re in new territory heading into the final two weeks of the season with a playoff berth in sight.

“Given what Seattle was going through the last 10-12 years, if I’d have said leaving Spring Training that on Sept. 16 we’d be two games out of the Wild Card, would you take it?” McClendon said. “I don’t think there’s anybody associated with the Seattle Mariners who would have said, ‘No, we don’t want that.’

“You have to keep things in perspective and look at the big picture. My guys have had a fantastic run,” he said. “We don’t want to look back down that road because it was a little shaky at times, but we can see the finish line and we’re going to keep charging ahead.”

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who’ll take the ball in Thursday’s series finale against Jered Weaver, said the players are certainly in step with McClendon’s belief that Monday was a bad game, but just needs to be forgotten as the focus shifts forward.

“We’ve got a good feeling,” Hernandez said. “Yesterday we got killed, but today we’re ready to play. We’re fine. We just have to continue fighting and we’ll be okay.”


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