Seattle Mariners

Mounting innings for Taijuan Walker, Mike Montgomery a concern

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Taijuan Walker delivers to the Minnesota Twins on July 31, 2015. Walker, who turns 23 on Thursday, is nearing a career high in innings.
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Taijuan Walker delivers to the Minnesota Twins on July 31, 2015. Walker, who turns 23 on Thursday, is nearing a career high in innings. The Associated Press

Nearly eight weeks remain in the regular season, but Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker might be approaching the tape as he heads into Tuesday’s start against the Baltimore Orioles.

Walker, who turns 23 on Thursday, is nearing a career high in innings, which will put him under increased scrutiny in coming weeks.

Even now, manager Lloyd McClendon admits he’s “not comfortable” that Walker can continue to pitch every fifth game through the end of the season.

“My responsibility to Taijuan Walker and to this organization,” McClendon said, “is (to) make sure our pitchers are as healthy as we possibly can. Being mindful of his innings is part of that process.”

McClendon said lefty Mike Montgomery, while older at 26, must also be watched over the closing weeks. Some clubs are less rigid in setting innings limits on pitchers who are 25 or older.

“It’s not like he’s 36,” McClendon said. “If we think this kid has the ability to pitch in this league for the next 10 years, at 25 or 26, what’s the difference?”

Walker heads into Tuesday’s start at 8-7 with a 4.67 ERA through 129 innings over 22 starts. He has never exceeded 141 1/3 innings in five previous professional seasons since his selection in the 2010 draft.

He logged 139 innings a year ago, including time in the Arizona Fall League.

“Stress has a lot to do with it,” McClendon said, “and, obviously, the innings at this level are a lot more stressful than the ones at Double-A and Triple-A.

“But I think, as a general rule of thumb, you look at 25-to-30, sometimes 35, more innings than the year before (as an acceptable maximum).”

That puts Walker’s maximum workload at roughly 175 innings. Counting Tuesday, that projects to another seven or eight starts. He would reach his maximum with about two weeks remaining in the season.

Montgomery is at 133 1/3 innings, counting his time earlier this season at Triple-A Tacoma. That already exceeds his totals from the two previous seasons: 126 innings a year ago and 131 1/3 innings in 2013.

While Montgomery did work roughly 150 innings in 2012 (149 2/3) and 2011 (150 2/3), clubs generally look at the two previous years in determining an acceptable workload.

NUNO’S STATUS

One consequence of the mounting innings for Walker and Montgomery is that lefty swingman Vidal Nuno, who started Monday, could get an extended look in the rotation.

“Right now, he’s still in the rotation,” McClendon hedged. “Five days from now, as we speak, he’ll still be in the rotation.”

Nuno, 28, was at 96 innings prior to Monday’s start, including his time this season in the minors. A year ago, he pitched 161 2/3 innings in 31 games, including 28 starts, for Arizona and the New York Yankees.

McClendon also reiterated that left-hander Roenis Elias has to pitch better at Tacoma in order to reclaim a spot in the big league rotation.

Elias, 27, is still 30 innings shy of his 2014 total, which should position him, roughly, for 10 more starts. But he has an 8.02 ERA in seven starts for the Rainiers since his July 3 demotion.

FURBUSH UPDATE

Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush threw 40 pitches “with better velocity” in a bullpen workout as the latest test in his recovery from biceps tendinitis, which surfaced after a July 7 appearance against Detroit.

No word yet from club officials if Furbush is now ready to head to the minors on a rehab assignment. When judged ready, Furbush is expected to make just one or two rehab appearances before returning to active duty.

Furbush was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 33 games prior to his injury. He had also stranded all 16 of his inherited runners.

BEST TOOLS

Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez each drew acclaim in Baseball America’s annual survey of major league managers to determine the “best tools” in each league.

Hernandez’s changeup ranked No. 1 among American League pitchers, but he did not place in the top three for best pitcher. The survey cited Chicago’s Chris Sale, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel and Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer.

Cruz ranked second for best power behind Los Angeles outfielder Mike Trout, and Cano rated as the second-best defensive second baseman behind Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.

The survey’s three best AL hitters: Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera, Trout and Texas designated hitter Prince Fielder.

Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt rated as the National League’s best hitter, and Los Angeles right-hander Zack Greinke as the NL’s best pitcher.

MINOR AWARDS

Short-A Everett players swept the weekly awards for Aug. 3-9 in the Northwest League when shortstop Drew Jackson was picked as the player of the week and left-hander Nick Wells was picked as the pitcher of the week.

Jackson, 22, won the award for the second time in three weeks. He carried a 15-game hitting streak into Monday’s game. He is batting .382 in 37 games with 46 runs, two homers and 17 RBIs.

Wells, 19, worked five scoreless innings last week in his only appearance. He allowed one hit and no walks and struck out eight. It was Wells’ first appearance since arriving in the July 31 trade for reliever Mark Lowe.

MINOR DETAILS

Outfielder Alex Jackson is 3-for-6 in two games at Short-A Everett since returning from a 23-day absence for an injured left hand.

Jackson, 19, was the sixth overall selection in the 2014 draft and entered the season ranked No. 1 on the TNT Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects.

After a rough start at Single-A Clinton, Jackson was reassigned to Everett, where he is batting .276 with a .370 on-base percentage and a .460 slugging percentage in 25 games. He has two homers and 12 RBIs.

LOOKING BACK

It was 21 years ago Tuesday — Aug. 11, 1994 — that Randy Johnson threw the final pitch of the season when he closed out an 8-1 victory at Oakland by retiring Ernie Young on a swinging third strike.

The players went on strike the following day, which eventually forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season.

SHORT HOPS

Nelson Cruz carried a 19-game hitting streak into Monday’s game. It was the longest active streak in the majors and matched a career high. He also had a 19-game run in 2010 while playing for Texas. ... Cruz also had a streak of nine consecutive games with an extra-base hit. The franchise record is 10 by Ken Griffey Jr., in 1993. No player has had a 10-game streak since Justin Upton in 2011 for Arizona. ... Robinson Cano entered Monday with 29 career homers against the Orioles. Only two active players have more: Alex Rodriguez (65) and David Ortiz (46). ... Three Mariners, prior to Monday, ranked among the major league leaders in runs scored since July 1: Kyle Seager and Cruz were tied for fifth with 25. Cano was tied for ninth with 24.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Orioles continue their three-game series at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (8-7, 4.67) will face Baltimore right-hander Chris Tillman (8-7, 4.35).

Tillman, 27, the Mariners’ second-round pick in 2006, was traded to the Orioles in the now-infamous deal for Erik Bedard in February, 2008. Tillman is 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA in seven career starts against his former club.

The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710-AM.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com

blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners

@TNT_Mariners

  Comments