By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – On the to-do list for Thursday was to watch Taijuan Walker's bullpen session. Manager Lloyd McClendon had other ideas about that, however.
"I'll be there but you guys won't be. It's going to be a private bullpen session at a site to be determined," McClendon said with a laugh.
Walker did throw the bullpen, his first since being shut down with shoulder bursitis. By all accounts, including his own, it went well.
"It was really big. I feel good, really good," he said.
Walker threw 25 pitches, all fastballs. While he was excited to be back on the mound he knew that it was important he did not overdo it the first time out.
"I just wanted to go out there and feel like my normal self and keep it free and easy," he said. "Just get the feel for it. It felt good. I did get after it about the last 10 or so and it felt really good."
The Mariners will look to Walker for the cue in what to do next. It is still a day-by-day situation but if the shoulder feels normal Friday the next step would be to throw a 40-pitch bullpen, most likely over the weekend. For now, Walker is happy with step one.
"It feels like my first regular bullpen where I felt good. I am excited, it kind of feels like I just got here. It's real good," he said.
Endy Chavez, 8
Willie Bloomquist 5
Robinson Cano, 4
Justin Smoak, DH
Logan Morrison, 3
Nick Franklin, 6
Dustin Ackley, 7
Michael Saunders, 9
Mike Zunino, 2
Hector Noesi is scheduled to follow Beavan and get multiple innings. Of note in the lineup, or not in the lineup, Corey Hart is missing his fourth straight game after experiencing forearm tenderness and lower back stiffness. According to McClendon, the back has been the issue the last couple of days but it's nothing serious. The skipper said he could have played Thursday but they are being cautious.
On that note, while they are building Hart up slowly with the hope that he can play 150 games this year, I have to wonder if we will see him start the season slowly as well. Might we see him get a couple of days off a week in the first month? This is the second time this spring we have seen him miss time with the back, although both times McClendon has said he could come back sooner but they were being cautious. Something to keep an eye on.
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen is quietly having a good spring. His velocity has been there from day one, hitting 97-98 mph on the radar gun, and he has been using the curveball that gave him problems last year. In five outings he has allowed two earned runs and walked just one batter. McClendon likes what he has seen.
"I've said this before, we all get our (posterior) kicked from time to time, at some point you have got to get back up and start fighting again and this kid is back up and he is fighting," he said. "We all know the stories from last year but I told him we are all human, it happens to everybody. Put it behind you and move forward and he has done that. We are seeing the big arm, all the pitches. He has thrown as good as anybody in camp. I've been very pleased."
This could be huge for the Mariners. While none of this matters until we see it in the regular season, if Wilhelmsen is back on track, in addition to having additional backup at closer this team could have a very nasty back of the bullpen. Potentially three closers and a very good lefty setup man. Looks good on paper and in the spring. We will see what happens March 31.
More good bullpen news?
McClendon was very cautious when he gave this news as it involves an injury that only two other pitchers have come back from, but Stephen Pryor continues to show good progress coming back from surgery to reattach his lat.
"He's throwing very, very well," McClendon said. "Our doctors and trainers are very pleased. They say he might be a little bit ahead of schedule. To what extent I am not sure, but his last simulated game he threw very well and his bullpen was explosive."
Strong words, but again this is a day-to-day rehab. The good news is it would appear that there have been no setbacks in spring training. It is still too soon to put a timetable on a return. The original return target was late May, but McClendon said there is a chance he could get into games before the team leaves Arizona.