After watching the talented and precocious group of position-playing prospects have early success in the live batting practice sessions and at the plate in intrasquad games, Taijuan Walker asked manager Scott Servais for a favor before his first outing of summer camp.
Could they be in the opposing lineup when he stepped to the mound at T-Mobile Park on Monday afternoon?
After all, Walker, a former hoops standout in high school, has been leading the trash talk between pitchers and hitters in the camp. He knew he had to back it up.
“This is where we have to try and compete and find ways to do that right now,” he said. “So if we do have to talk a little (trash) to each other to fire each other up then that’s what needs to happen. It’s awesome to see that everyone wants a piece of each other. It’s going to get us ready for the season.”
Asked for and received.
Servais put up the hot-hitting Kyle Lewis, along with his buddy Evan White and top outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic as well as opening day shortstop J.P. Crawford.
Pitching in his first game situation since a “B” game in early March, Walker wasn’t sharp or pinpoint with his command, particularly his changeup. But his fastball sat around 93-94 mph and he worked two scoreless innings, allowing one hit with a walk and two strikeouts.
“I liked where my stuff was,” he said. “My offspeed was decent, but my changeup was really bad. I’m not happy with it. The last two I threw, I made a few adjustments and finished strong with those two.”
As for Lewis, he got him to hit a routine groundout to third. It was just the first time Lewis had made an out in three intrasquad games.
“It was good,” Walker said. “K-Lew didn’t hit a homer off me. But I wanted to strike him out. I will take a groundball out. He’s been lights-out. I know during quarantine he’s been busting his butt. He’s only getting better, which is scary. It’s fun facing guys who are hot like that. You get a chance to see where your stuff is and how it’s playing against guys like that.”
After seeing Kelenic blast homers in live batting practice, Walker was able to get him to fly out to left field on a misplaced changeup.
“I left a changeup up to Kelenic,” Walker said. “He’s not going to miss that very often. I think I got away with one on him.”
The only hit Walker allowed was on a check-swing groundball that rolled slowly between third base and the mound. Despite his massive frame, Walker still has the basketball player’s athleticism and pounced off the mound. But he slipped as he went to pick up the ball and tumbled over in a modified somersault and roll. While the dismount wasn’t pretty, the judges did award him points for style and difficulty.
“I really wanted to make that play,” he said. “I tripped a little bit, but I thought I recovered with the little somersault and I thought I made it looked good so it wouldn’t be too bad on YouTube. But every play needs to be full effort in these games so we can get something out of it.”
Bautista out indefinitely
After undergoing a MRI and other tests and being examined by the team orthopedist, Dr. Edward Khalfayan, right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista was diagnosed with an elbow/forearm strain, specifically the flexor mass area.
“The initial findings on Bautista were good in the fact that it doesn’t look like it’s a situation where he’s going to need surgery,” Servais said. “He’s going to need some time to rehab it, of course, but we’re fortunate that it does not, at this time, look like it’s going to be a surgery issue.
Acquired as part of the five-player package from the Mets in exchange for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz last offseason, Bautista was trying to come back from a subpar season in 2019 when he was injured in spring training and struggled to command his high-90s fastball when he returned.
He looked sharp during spring training. And the Mariners hoped he’d finally turned a corner in harnessing his stuff.
“He stayed in Arizona the whole time during the shutdown,” Servais said. “Both he and Yohan Ramirez were down in Arizona, working out and throwing as much as anybody that’s come into this camp. They were with a group of guys down there — some guys from other teams, friends of theirs — and they were doing live ABs and different things like that throughout the entire down time. It’s one of the reasons we had very high hopes from here his making our club and kind of working himself into a meaningful role in our bullpen.”
Four more players finally join summer camp
The Mariners moved closer to having all 60 players on their invited list actively participating in summer camp.
Monday morning in his media session, Servais confirmed that right-handed reliever Zac Grotz has been cleared of the intake testing requirements and worked out with the morning group Sunday.
Later in the day, about 30 minutes before the intrasquad game started, outfielder Mallex Smith, utility player Dylan Moore and catcher Joe Hudson appeared from the clubhouse and played catch in the outfield and did some running, meaning they also cleared testing requirements. As Grotz and previously Julio Rodriguez, all three had been absent since the Mariners’ first workout July 3.
The only remaining player who has yet to be seen on the field is veteran right-handed reliever Yoshihisa Hirano. But because the Mariners’ morning workouts for players not participating in that day’s intrasquad game are closed to the media, it’s not certain whether Hirano is still absent.
By rule, the Mariners are not allowed to comment on the status of players absences related to COVID-19 testing.