SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As he met the media Thursday morning, Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon made a request and a promise.
McClendon told reporters that Taijuan Walker’s scheduled bullpen session would be closed and the location kept a secret.
McClendon then smiled, and as a compromise gesture, said: “I’ll give you guys something else. I’ll give you a big story — how about that?”
Right now, though, it’d be pretty hard to find story lines more important to the Mariners than the progress of Walker as he recovers from shoulder bursitis.
And the good news Thursday, Walker was happy to report himself later, is that all went well during a 25-pitch session, the first time he had thrown off a mound since he was shut down on Feb. 28.
“Today was a big relief,” said Walker, the team’s highly prized rookie right-handed pitcher. “Like finally, I feel normal again. I could just be normal and play catch and not worry about anything.”
Walker threw only fastballs, but said he felt good enough that for the last 10 pitches “I was able to really get after it.”
Assuming no unexpected setbacks, the plan is to ramp it up to a 40-pitch bullpen session, breaking balls included, sometime in the next few days.
“He threw the ball extremely well,” McClendon said. “I was very, very pleased.”
As for why he wanted to keep the media away from the bullpen session, McClendon said it had nothing to do with Walker’s status as the team’s top prospect — rated No. 6 overall by MLB.com.
Rather, he said: “I just don’t want to turn this into a sideshow. I just want him to get his regular work in. He’s doing fine. And I understand the inquiries about him and people wondering about his health. But he’s doing fine. He’s going to go back to being one of the regular guys. TV cameras and reporters, he doesn’t need that right now. He just needs to get back in his groove.”
Walker said he really doesn’t care who is watching.
“I just want to go out and just get healthy,” he said. “I just want to go out there and pitch and feel normal again.”
And Thursday, he said, was a step in the right direction
“I’m excited,” he said. “It feels really good.”
Big news indeed.
Beavan stating his case for rotation
Walker, if and when healthy, is a sure bet for the rotation; Blake Beavan is not.
Beavan, though, is making a case to McClendon.
Beavan improved to 2-0 this spring, lowering his earned-run average to 2.13 as the Mariners beat Arizona 6-3 Thursday. He allowed one run on five hits. Beavan threw 79 pitches in 42/3 innings, the longest stint for any Mariners pitcher this spring. He struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.
“Pretty impressive,” said McClendon, adding that there’s no reason Beavan can’t work his way into the rotation.
“There was nobody at the front (of the list of potential starters) other than Felix (Hernandez),” he said.
The lack of walks caught McClendon’s eye Thursday as much as anything.
“Today he really worked ahead,” he said. “First-pitch strikes, 0-2, he didn’t fiddle around and really went at the strike zone. That’s important.”
It might have been easy to think Beavan’s time had come and gone after a lost 2013 season spent mostly in Tacoma other than two stints with the Mariners in which he was 0-2 in 12 games, two of which were starts.
Beavan, though, says dealing with tendinitis in his left knee was the main issue a year ago and being healthy now has made a “night-and-day difference.”
“It’s a lot easier when you are not having to pitch through pain and not having to worry about compensating for your knee and creating bad habits in your mechanics,” said Beavan, who has been with the Mariners since July 9, 2010, when he was acquired from Texas as part of the Cliff Lee trade. “That’s what happened to me last year. It was good to kind of get back to where I was in 2012 (when he went 11-11 in 26 starts with the Mariners). … I feel like it’s coming along pretty good.”