SEATTLE — The Mariners shuffled their pitching staff before Wednesday’s game.
• They optioned pitcher Taijuan Walker to Class AAA Tacoma and recalled reliever Stephen Pryor.
• They named reliever Tom Wilhelmsen Thursday’s starter. He fills the spot originally slated for Felix Hernandez, who manager Lloyd McClendon moved back so he could start Friday against Oakland.
• And the Mariners set their rotation for the weekend series against the division-leading A’s: Hernandez on Friday, Hisashi Iwakuma on Saturday and Chris Young on Sunday. That allows Iwakuma and Hernandez to start back-to-back out of the All-Star break.
The move to send Walker to Tacoma is simple, McClendon said. It allows Walker to keep making starts during the All-Star break. He was in line to start against the A’s this weekend, but McClendon opted to go with his more experienced pitchers, meaning Walker wouldn’t have pitched in the majors again until after the All-Star break.
He will make two starts in Tacoma before rejoining the Mariners after the break. McClendon said Walker is slotted to start against the Mets in Seattle’s second series after the break. “It just makes sense,” McClendon said.
McClendon opted to start Wilhelmsen on Thursday against the Twins in part because Wilhelmsen has worked as the Mariners’ long reliever. Wilhelmsen has thrown three innings three times this season, all in the past month.
But McClendon said the idea of Wilhelmsen as a starter has also intrigued him.
“I wouldn’t be honest if I told you I hadn’t thought about it,” McClendon said. “He’s been impressive in the long role. It’s certainly intriguing and something that’s been on my mind.”
When McClendon was asked if he meant Wilhelmsen might become a starter, he said it’s a “possibility.”
McClendon said Wilhelmsen’s power arm and his success in the long-reliever role makes him intriguing as a starter. He said he’s hoping to get three or four innings out of him on Thursday.
Wilhelmsen, who has a 2.49 earned-run average, was Seattle’s closer for parts of the past two seasons, but he started 43 games in the minors, posting a 5.49 ERA in 12 games for Class AA Jackson.
“If I can recall correctly,” Wilhelmsen said, “Jackson didn’t go so well, so I’m probably not going to use anything from Jackson.”
Pryor returns to the Mariners for the first time since last season. He is recovering from a lat injury suffered last season. Pryor routinely threw in the high-90s before his injury, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to touch triple digits on the radar gun.
But he is still trying to regain his velocity, although McClendon said he pitched in the mid-90s in Tacoma.
“He’s not quite where he needs to be, but he’s healthy and throwing good,” McClendon said. “Command has been good. All signs point to him being on the road to being successful again.”
Iwakuma, then Felix
When the Mariners return from the All-Star break, McClendon said Iwakuma is likely to start the first game in Anaheim and Hernandez will start the next game. That’s because Hernandez will likely start the All-Star Game, especially with the news Wednesday that Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka is headed to the disabled list. If it happens, it will be the first time Hernandez has started in the All-Star Game.