Walker -- and teammates -- feeling loose

Right-hander expects to make scheduled start Wednesday

Walker -- and teammates -- feeling loose

SEATTLE -- Mariners starter Taijuan Walker says his neck feels loose and ready again after he was pulled following just two innings in his last start Friday in Houston when he couldn't turn his head. Judging from the carefree atmosphere around him in the Mariners' clubhouse prior to Monday's series opener with the Rays, his teammates are pretty loose and ready these days as well.

The Mariners are having fun and an 18-13 record and early front-running status in the American League West certainly helps.

Walker looked to his right to see several teammates playing basketball on a Nerf hoop. To his left, a new pool table is being unpacked so the club can resume the billiards competition that began in Spring Training and caught fire after manager Scott Servais looked for ways to get his players to bond together instead of staring at iPads and cell phones at their lockers.

"I'm sure last year it was really quiet when you were doing interviews," Walker said. "Now you can barely hear in here. The biggest thing Servais said to us was to have fun and enjoy it. That's what we've been doing, and I think that's why we've been having success.

"We haven't been putting pressure on or trying to go out and do too much. We're just living in the moment, enjoying the moment -- and we're playing good baseball."

Chances to continue that will be better if Walker stays healthy. The young right-hander has been outstanding this season with a 1.97 ERA in six starts, but the Mariners suffered one of their two losses in the last seven-game road swing on the day Walker could only pitch two innings and gave up three runs on two homers in his abbreviated start.

"When you can't turn your neck when somebody is talking to you, that's a problem," said Walker, who woke up with the problem on Thursday and just now is getting back to normal. "The way my windup is, I'm turned toward third base. So to turn my neck to look at the catcher, I couldn't do it. I had to open up just to see him."

Servais said he has no doubt Walker will be ready for Wednesday's 12:40 p.m. PT game in what should be a good matchup against Rays standout Chris Archer.

"He felt fine yesterday," Servais said. "He actually joked and said he had a couple innings in him if we needed. He's feeling good."

Walker was serious about helping out if needed after throwing just 35 pitches on Friday.

"I felt really bad, because our bullpen has been really good, but guys are going down," Walker said. "I wanted to give as many innings as I possibly could. But the bullpen really picked me up that day and then [Nathan] Karns had a really good start the next day, so he picked me up, too. That's kind of what everybody has been doing, just picking each other up."

Worth noting

• Relievers Joaquin Benoit and Charlie Furbush both threw bullpen sessions on Monday and will repeat that on Wednesday as they work back from shoulder issues. Benoit has only been sidelined for two weeks, so he might be able to rejoin the team in the next week or so without a Minor League rehab. Furbush is on a longer path, as he hasn't pitched in a game since last July and missed almost all of Spring Training.

• Servais said right-handed reliever Ryan Cook is throwing well at the team's complex in Peoria, Ariz., as he works back from a lat strain that wiped out his Spring Training. But Servais said there's no timeline yet on when Cook might start throwing rehab games. He's not eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list until June 2.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.