Seattle Mariners

Mariners’ Taijuan Walker remains in rotation limbo

The Mariners are being careful with starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, 23, who has already thrown a career-high 169 2/3 innings in 29 starts. A year ago, injuries limited him to just 129 innings.
The Mariners are being careful with starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, 23, who has already thrown a career-high 169 2/3 innings in 29 starts. A year ago, injuries limited him to just 129 innings. The Associated Press

For now, Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker can only wait and wonder whether he will pitch again this season as he works to maintain his routine.

“They said, ‘Just keep doing your work and be ready,’ ” he said. “I’ve been telling them that I feel good, I feel strong. But at the end of the day, that’s their choice.”

The problem is workload. Walker, 23, has already thrown a career-high 169 2/3 innings in 29 starts. A year ago, injuries limited him to just 129 innings. Two years ago, he threw 156 1/3 innings.

While Walker is being skipped on the Mariners’ current cycle through the rotation, manager Lloyd McClendon hasn’t yet ruled him out for the rest of the season.

“He’s doing his normal stuff,” McClendon said. “He had touch-and-feels in the bullpen. He’ll play catch every day. Condition.”

Walker’s last start was Sept. 14, when he worked seven innings in a 10-1 victory over the Angels at Safeco Field. He improved to 11-8 and lowered his ERA to 4.56. He is 10-5 and 3.92 in his last 24 starts.

“There’s been tremendous growth,” McClendon said, “from where he started to where he is now. The maturity factor. The ability to slow the game down. Not get overwhelmed and let things speed up on him.”

If Walker starts again, the likeliest slot is next weekend in a rematch against the Angels in Anaheim, California.

The Mariners have their rotation loosely in place until then: Vidal Nuno and Felix Hernandez in the final two games against the Rangers; then Hisashi Iwakuma, Roenis Elias and James Paxton at Kansas City.

McClendon said Hernandez will start the Sept. 25 opener at Anaheim, and Iwakuma will pitch the series finale. As for the middle game, McClendon hedged: “I don’t know yet.”

It figures to be either Walker or Nuno.

Until he finds out, Walker logs time as best he can. That includes joining the relievers, who do their daily run conditioning by catching footballs in pass-catching drills.

“I just keep working out,” he said. “Playing catch. Going out there and doing some football passes. Just trying to stay active. Power shagging (fly balls during batting practice).

“I’ve got to do something to stay busy.”

CRUZ STILL LIMITED

Nelson Cruz remains limited to duty as a designated hitter because of a strained quadriceps muscle suffered Sept. 2 while running the bases.

“I’m not sure we’ll see him in the outfield here (for the weekend series at Texas),” McClendon said. “We’re hoping for (next week in) Kansas City.”

Cruz missed six games because of the injury but, prior to Friday, was 8 for 27 in seven games since he returned with three homers and six RBIs.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Mariners entered the weekend with a 37-35 road record, which meant a 4-5 record (or better) on this, their final trip — through Texas, Kansas City and Anaheim — would clinch a winning record away from home.

Further, the Mariners were 83-70 away from home over the last two seasons. Only Kansas City, at 85-67, has a better road winning percentage in that span.

STRONG-ARMING

The Mariners, prior to Friday’s games, had a 2.73 ERA for September, which ranked first by a wide margin among all 30 major league clubs.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were second at 3.11, while the second-best American League club was Boston at 3.68. (See chart below)

The Mariners also ranked first (again by a wide margin) among all clubs in bullpen ERA for September at 1.46. San Francisco was second at 1.71; Texas was second among AL clubs at 2.18.

As for the rotation, the Mariners, at 3.47, ranked fourth in the majors and second among AL clubs. The Dodgers were first at 2.82, followed by Boston at 2.92 and the Chicago Cubs at 3.02.

MINOR DETAILS

Outfielder Tyler O’Neil and right-handed pitcher Edwin Diaz were picked by MLB.com as the Mariners’ minor league player and pitcher of the year.

O’Neill, 20, led the Hi-A California League with 32 homers in 106 games at Bakersfield while batting .260 and driving in 87 runs. He was the club’s third-round pick in the 2013 draft.

Diaz, 21, was a combined 7-10 with a 3.82 ERA in 27 starts at Bakersfield (seven) and Double-A Jackson (20). He was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft.

LOOKING BACK

It was 14 years ago — Sept. 19, 2001 — that the Mariners clinched the American League West title with a 5-0 victory over Angels at Safeco Field.

The Mariners marked the occasion with an on-field celebration that included a short prayer and a parade with an American flag in a gesture of remembrance for the terrorist attack that took place eight days earlier.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners, entering Friday, had a 23-16 record with rookie shortstop Ketel Marte as their leadoff hitter. … Cruz had 166 hits, prior to Friday, and needed one more to achieve his career high. He also had 166 last season at Baltimore. … Robinson Cano, before Friday, needed seven hits in the final 15 games to reach 2,000 for his career and become the 14th player in major league history to reach that milestone in his first 11 seasons.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Rangers continue their three-game series at 5:05 p.m. Pacific time at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.

Lefty swingman Vidal Nuno (1-2, 3.21 ERA) will try to repeat his dominant performance in his last start against Texas when he faces lefty Cole Hamels (3-1, 4.04). Nuno allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings in a 6-0 victory over the Rangers on Sept. 9 at Safeco Field. He has only made one brief relief appearance since that game.

The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com

blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners

@TNT_Mariners

September ERAs

(Prior to Friday games; record in parentheses)

Mariners (10-5)

2.73

New York Yankees (8-7)

4.43

LA Dodgers (11-4)

3.11

New York Mets (10-5)

4.46

Chicago Cubs (11-5)

3.13

Cincinnati (7-8)

4.47

San Francisco (8-7)

3.25

Chicago White Sox (8-8)

4.46

Miami (11-4)

3.31

Milwaukee (7-9)

4.58

Washington (9-7)

3.48

Arizona (6-9)

4.60

Boston (8-6)

3.68

St. Louis (7-8)

4.74

Texas (11-5)

3.70

San Diego (5-11)

5.04

Los Angeles Angels (9-6)

3.79

Houston (4-11)

5.44

Tampa Bay (5-10)

3.84

Baltimore (9-6) 5.48

5.48

Pittsburgh (8-9)

3.84

Kansas City (6-10)

5.73

Cleveland (8-7)

4.01

Detroit (7-8)

5.91

Minnesota (8-8)

4.25

Atlanta (3-13)

5.94

Colorado (8-9)

4.29

Oakland (5-10)

6.39

Toronto (10-5)

4.32

Philadelphia (4-11)

6.43

September ERAs

(prior to Friday’s games; record in parentheses)

Mariners (10-5) 2.73

Los Angeles Dodgers (11-4) 3.11

Chicago Cubs (11-5) 3.13

San Francisco (8-7) 3.25

Miami (11-4) 3.31

Washington (9-7) 3.48

Boston (8-6) 3.68

Texas (11-5) 3.70

Los Angeles Angels (9-6) 3.79

Tampa Bay (5-10) 3.84

Pittsburgh (8-9) 3.84

Cleveland (8-7) 4.01

Minnesota (8-8) 4.25

Colorado (8-9) 4.29

Toronto (10-5) 4.32

New York Yankees (8-7) 4.43

New York Mets (10-5) 4.46

Cincinnati (7-8) 4.47

Chicago White Sox (8-8) 4.46

Milwaukee (7-9) 4.58

Arizona (6-9) 4.60

St. Louis (7-8) 4.74

San Diego (5-11) 5.04

Houston (4-11) 5.44

Baltimore (9-6) 5.48

Kansas City (6-10) 5.73

Detroit (7-8) 5.91

Atlanta (3-13) 5.94

Oakland (5-10) 6.39

Philadelphia (4-11) 6.43

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