Ramirez sent to Triple-A, opening door for Walker

Ramirez sent to Triple-A, opening door for Walker

SEATTLE -- Struggling starter Erasmo Ramirez was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners, with newly converted reliever Brandon Maurer recalled to take his roster spot in time to join Seattle's bullpen for Wednesday night's game against the Red Sox.

The move opens up a spot in the Mariners rotation that will need to be filled by Monday, which would have been Ramirez's next turn when Seattle opens a six-game road trip in Houston. No decision has been announced on who'll start that game, but all signs point to top prospect Taijuan Walker being ready to join the club after throwing a four-hit shutout for Tacoma on Tuesday night against Oklahoma City.

Manager Lloyd McClendon would say nothing more than that Walker "is in the discussion" to fill the rotation vacancy, but clearly was pleased with the 21-year-old's performance in his six games for Tacoma since returning from a sore shoulder that sidelined him much of the spring.

"Taijuan threw the ball extremely well," McClendon said of his 109-pitch shutout on Tuesday. "That's very good. I was really happy to hear that. He came through it good and continues to progress. And hopefully he continues to get better."

Walker made three starts for Seattle late last season and appeared in line for a rotation berth this spring until his shoulder problems cropped up. The youngster has gone 2-1 with a 4.11 ERA in six outings for Tacoma.

"His starts have been fine," McClendon said. "The one before [the shutout], he had some ups and downs, but all pitchers do. From a health standpoint, he's feeling better, he's throwing, he's answering the bell every five days. The velocity is up and he's building, so that's encouraging."

Maurer, 23, started seven games for the Mainers earlier this season and went 1-4 with a 7.52 ERA before being sent down and moved into the bullpen in Tacoma. The 23-year-old has gone 1-0 with three saves and a 2.79 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings for the Rainiers, and will continue in a relief role now, though McClendon said his role now likely is to just bridge the gap until another starter is added.

McClendon said Maurer was added instead of bringing up a position player -- with Justin Smoak eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday -- because "pitching is our foundation. It's the rock of this team and we have an opportunity to protect it over the next four to five days, so why not?"

Maurer has done well in his new role in the bullpen and McClendon said he could be used either in a long or short role for now, depending on what needs arise. As for his potential as a reliever?

"We'll see," said McClendon. "It gives him less chance to think about things and obviously the velocity is up at the Triple-A level to 98 out of the bullpen. So it's just intriguing."

Ramirez, 24, will be given a chance to regain his command now in Tacoma. The young right-hander has gone 1-4 with a 4.58 ERA in 11 starts over three different stints with the Mariners this year. He lasted more than five innings in just one of his five outings since being recalled in early June and was lifted after 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday when he walked five and allowed five hits on 93 pitches.

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