Walker staying ready despite likely shutdown

Walker staying ready despite likely shutdown

ARLINGTON -- Taijuan Walker is staying ready, doing his normal between-starts work and keeping himself mentally prepared to take the mound again this season. But it's likely the 23-year-old's next start won't come until Spring Training unless something changes in the final two weeks of the Mariners' campaign.

"It's all good," Walker said prior to Friday's series opener against the Rangers. "I'm still doing my work, making sure I'm still going to be ready whenever they may need me."

With the Mariners all but mathematically eliminated from American League Wild Card contention, manager Lloyd McClendon is skipping Walker's start in the Rangers series and doesn't have him slotted in for another outing on this nine-game road trip.

The 23-year-old has already thrown a career-high 169 2/3 innings, after totaling 120 1/3 in an injury-shortened 2014. Walker appreciates the concern in keeping him healthy for the long run, even though he's itching to keep pitching.

"They just said, 'Keep doing your work and be ready,'" he said. "I've been telling them I feel good, I feel strong. But at the end of the day, it's their choice whether to shut me down or not. I understand. Obviously, after being in this thing, everyone wants to pitch. Everyone wants to play."

At this point, Vidal Nuno and Felix Hernandez will close out the Rangers series this weekend, then it'll be Hisashi Iwakuma, Roenis Elias and James Paxton against the Royals on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Kansas City.

Hernandez will come back against the Angels on Friday in Anaheim and Iwakuma will close that series out on Sunday. McClendon hasn't settled on a Saturday starter.

The Mariners then return home to close out the season with six games against the Astros and A's.

That's a long stretch for Walker if he's not used at all, which is why he said he's sticking with his normal routine.

"I can't just sit around," he said. "That would be a little more frustrating. That's why I'm still going out there, playing catch every day and acting like I'm pitching, just to keep my body going so I'm not sitting around doing nothing. I'm still doing my workouts, my arm exercises, playing catch, long toss, flat grounds, bullpens. Everything is going to be the same."

Worth noting

• McClendon had hoped Nelson Cruz's right quad, which sidelined him earlier this month, would be healthy enough to allow him to play some right field during the Texas series so he could use Robinson Cano at designated hitter and rest Cano's sore abdominal muscle.

But McClendon said Friday it looks now as if Cruz won't be running well enough to play the outfield until the Kansas City series next week at the earliest.

• The Mariners headed into Friday's play with the second-best record in the AL West since the All-Star break at 30-28, with the Rangers first at 37-21. The Astros were 28-28, the Angels 26-32 and the A's 22-34.

Franklin Gutierrez has hit one home run every 10.69 plate appearances this season (he has 13 in 139 at-bats). That's the best ratio in Mariners history for any player with 10 or more homers in a season, topping the 10.83 by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1994. The only Mariner with more than 13 home runs in a season with 200 or fewer at-bats was Ken Phelps, who hit 14 in 190 at-bats in 1998.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.