We are another day closer to the July 31 trading deadline (leaving nine but who’s counting anyways?), yet still no decisive movement on the Mariners’ front. Unlike most teams, the M’s are clear buyers, but general manager Jack Zduriencik seems to playing a prudent role as leader as he has been preaching in recent interviews. He seems to have a number of targets (David Price, Ben Zobrist, Marlon Byrd, Starling Marte, Matt Kemp among them) and is just waiting for the price to be right.
One of the prime pieces that woud be seem to have to be a part of a bigger move — like the addition of Price for instance — is Taijuan Walker. The rookie right-hander was just tabbed to be the M’s starter Wednesday against the Mets as the teams wrap up their three-game set.
Walker, 21, will be making his third start but first since suffering his first career loss in a less than sharp four innings in Chicago July 6. It’s also his first since trade rumors started to swirl around him.
Prior to the game Tuesday, Walker spoke about the changes he needed to make to regain his fastball command and the comments his manager Lloyd McClendon made after his first outing in Tacoma in his most recent stretch with the Rainiers.
“Obviously, I need to be better. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be better, too. I wasn’t pleased with my start,” Walker said. “I just took that as motivation.”
After walking five batters in that outing against the White Sox in which he needed 83 pitches to finish four innings, Walker went to the video room to find out what he needed to fix to return to the form that saw him rise as high as No. 3 on the Top 100 prospects list.
“There were some things after (Chicago) that I finally found what I needed to fix,” Walker said. “I think it was (mechanical). I felt like I was flying open. Watching video from last year and this year, it’s just my lower half there’s no drive, no legs in it . . . I noticed last year I was closed off more when I finished (my release) and this year everything was open.”
Walker said he’s been working on the fixes in recent bullpens.
“I didn’t have a consistent release point,” added Walker. “I think it all comes down to my lower half, (which) I think I’ve fixed in my last bullpen. I felt like I was back to my normal self. My fastball command was back.”
For Walker, the season has been a challenging one thus far. He entered spring training in February hoping to earn a spot in the starting rotation only to be shut down thanks to shoulder inflammation. He was on the mend in April before suffering a setback prior to a minor-league rehab outing on April 15. That delayed his ’14 debut until June. After two starts, Walker was sent back to Triple-A to work on his command in two starts with the Rainiers rather than sit idle over the All-Star break.
Walker said he’s looking forward to finally being able to settle into the M’s rotation where he can count on a start every fifth game. Meanwhile, all the rumors swirling around Walker, a young adult who is very active on social media, have also been distracting.
“It’s kind of hard not to especially when you’ve got family and friends always calling and asking where you’re going,” Walker said. “That’s tough, but you try to block it out as much as possible.”
It’s been Walker’s mom who has been the most ardent observer.
“She’s the worst,” Walker said, laughing. “I’ve got to calm her down.”
Here is the lineup the M’s will throw out against rookie RHP Jacob deGrom (3-5, 3.18 ERA, 111 ERA+), notice Willie “ballgame” Bloomquist in for the second straight day after going 3-for-5 with a double and two runs scored.
1. Endy Chavez (L) rf
2. James Jones (L) cf
3. Robinson Cano (L) 2b
4. Kyle Seager (L) 3b
5. Corey Hart dh
6. Logan Morrison (L) 1b
7. Willie Bloomquist ss
8. Dustin Ackley (L) lf
9. Mike Zunino c
rhp Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 4.58 ERA, 82 ERA+)
— LHP James Paxton will start in Tacoma Tuesday. The hope is to see him increase his workload to 55-60 pitches and see him come away healthy. If he does, he will see at least one more minor-league rehab outing before returning to the M’s rotation.
— Closer Fernando Rodney is good to go tonight after his long relief outing Sunday against Anaheim.
— McClendon said OF Michael Saunders is “feeling better,” but that he is still a ways from returning. Also, RHP Roenis Elias “checked out fine” after leaving Monday’s start with cramps in his throwing hand.
— OF Dustin Ackley batted 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI Monday and is hitting .360 in July (18-for-50) after hitting .214 through the first three months of the season. McClendon has noticed the upswing.
“I’m trying to learn the player. I don’t know if he’s just a notoriously slow starter and once he gets hot, he gets hot,” said McClendon. “I do know he’s playing better . . . He’s staying on the ball a lot better, driving the ball the other way. . .”