Walker has been outstanding this spring. He's made five starts and hasn't allowed a run in 18 innings pitched, while striking out 19 batters. But has it been enough to lock down a rotation spot? Manager Lloyd McClendon isn't tipping his hand.

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So there was a fair amount of consternation last night on The Twittah about Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon not announcing that Taijuan Walker had won the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation after yet another brilliant start. In the video on the postgame recap, McClendon was asked if that fifth spot in the rotation had been locked down.

His response: “No”

It’s obvious that Walker has been outstanding this spring. He’s made five starts and hasn’t allowed a run in 18 innings pitched, while striking out 19 batters. He’s been dominant. He’s showed a lively fastball, a nasty changeup and improving breaking stuff. It’s difficult to see any reason why Walker won’t be the fifth starter on the opening day roster. And the way the starting probables are lined up on McClendon’s board in his office, it seems as though Elias won’t be making a start next week. So that’s a pretty good sign that Walker has won the job.

But that doesn’t mean McClendon has to announce it or confirm it last night or today or tomorrow. One of the main reasons would be out of respect to Roenis Elias, who is vying for the spot and starting today in Maryvale.  The announcement of a decision like this isn’t made in haste. McClendon is going to want to meet with both players individually, discuss the decision, what went into it and why they made it. There will be hurt feelings for the loser. That’s a given. Every player wants to be on the big league team to fall short is never enjoyable. McClendon said a few days ago, he wouldn’t make an announcement on that till the final week of spring training. I don’t expect him to change his mind on that.

“You’ll be the last to know,” he said.

As for the idea of having Elias in Class AAA, it’s not the end of the world. It’s been mentioned often that there is a need for depth in the starting rotation, particularly on the 40-man roster. It’s why they added Happ in the offseason. Elias will likely go to AAA and work on a normal rotation and be ready to go when called upon. Even if there were no major injuries to the starters, my guess is that Elias will make more than a handful of starts at the big league level. The Mariners plan is to play more than six months. They want to be playing in the seventh month in the playoffs. Having six viable starters helps them do that. We saw last year that in the dog days of July and August, McClendon tried to get extra days rest for starters and controlling innings output. Unfortunately, that at times meant bullpen starts or even Erasmo Ramirez starts. There shouldn’t be as large of dropoff this season if he decides to do that.

It also allows the Mariners to control overall innings output for Paxton, Walker and Elias. That is still very important for the future of the team as well. Paxton only threw 86 2/3 innings last season because of injuries. In 2013, he threw 169 1/3 innings. If you add in the nine innings in the Arizona Fall League, Walker threw 138 1/3 innings last season. His career high came in 2013 when he threw 156 1/3 innings. Elias threw a career high 168 2/3 innings before being shutdown with forearm pain.  The rule usually is roughly 25-30  innings more than a career high. But also keep in mind that minor league inning totals are more controlled with less leverage than total big league innings.

Elias may be better than Happ right now. He certainly has more potential. But it isn’t a bad thing to have him in AAA.

There is an adage in baseball — “Good teams have good players in Triple A.”

“I agree with that,” McClendon said.  “I think we are at that point where we have a very good big league club and our Triple A team should be very good and very competitive.”

In past years, we’ve seen the Mariners bring up prospects earlier than expected because they were basically better than the major league players on the roster and the team was in no position to play meaningful games late in the season so it was a way to get some MLB experience. That’s not the case this season.

“I think this organization is at a point now where we don’t have to take guys to the big leagues out of necessity,” McClendon said. “We take guys to the big leagues because they are the best ones to take.”

The Mariners optioned out Stefen Romero and James Jones to Tacoma this spring. Both players spent considerable time in the big leagues last season. But they aren’t on the roster this year. Why? Because the Mariners brought in better, more experienced players that moved ahead of them on the roster.

It’s a similar situation with the bullpen. The Mariners have several really good right-handed relievers, but there is a chance that either Dominic Leone, Carson Smith or Yoervis Medina starts the season in Class AAA if McClendon decides to keep a second lefty. As the oft-uttered cliche goes, “It’s a good problem to have.”

*** Felix Hernandez is scheduled to throw between 5-6 innings today.

*** Medina is scheduled to pitch today and will be watched closely by the Mariners’ staff

“He hasn’t pitched well to this point in the spring,” McClendon said. “We had a couple of bullpen sessions with him and hopefully we’ll see better today. He did a nice job for us last year, everybody in our bullpen did a nice job. But one thing I expressed to our guys in our bullpen – ‘Rodney is etched in stone. Nobody else. Whether you like it or you don’t, it’s just a fact.’ There’s a lot of competition. We could probably say we have nine or 10 legit people for a seven man bullpen. So decisions are going to be tough.”


Here’s my story on Brad Miller and the continued work to improve his defense, specifically his footwork, which in turn relates directly to his throwing issues. Robinson Cano has begun doing extra work with Miller and infield Chris Woodward in the hopes of showing Miller a few ways to improve his consistency in the field.

Miller said that besides working on the field with him before games, Cano pulled him into the video room after a game the other day and they went through his plays and did some more analysis.

“For him to want to do that that, I don’t think he realizes how big that is for us,” Miller said.

McClendon isn’t surprised about it.

“Those kinds of things are off the chart,” McClendon said. “It’s going to help (Miller).”

*** ESPN 710’s Danny, Dave and Moore are down in Peoria for a few days doing their show from the complex. They had a busy day with interviews with GM Jack Zduriencik, catcher Mike Zunino (link) and pitcher James Paxton (link). Here’s the direct player to Zduriencik’s interview: