Right-hander Taijuan Walker declared himself ready to begin a minor-league rehab assignment after throwing 56 pitches over three innings Friday in a simulated game at Safeco Field.
“I think I’m ready.” he said. “Everything felt good today. I didn’t get tired out there. I felt I was strong (to the end). So I think I could have gone another inning or so.
“It feels good to go out there, just pitch and not worry about anything.”
The Mariners will likely wait to make sure Walker experiences no day-after problems before making an announcement, but he said he’s on a standard five-day schedule.
If so, that positions him to start his rehab assignment Wednesday when Triple-A Tacoma plays Salt Lake (Angels) at Cheney Stadium. Rehab assignments for pitchers can last up to 30 days.
Walker would be the third player sent to the Rainiers in less than a week. Outfielder/DH Logan Morrison reported Friday, and lefty James Paxton is scheduled to start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
Rehab assignments for non-pitchers are limited to 20 days.
Walker, 21, is generally viewed as the organization’s top prospect. He entered spring training as a heavy favorite to win a spot in the rotation but soon experienced shoulder soreness.
After opening the season on the disabled list, Walker made two rehab starts and appeared ready to rejoin the big-league rotation before shoulder problems resurfaced prior to a scheduled April 15 start for Tacoma.
“I felt I was right there and ready to go,” he said. “I was going to get that last start (for Tacoma) and then head back up (to the big leagues). That definitely sucked, but I had to stay positive.”
Walker traces at least some of his problems to a poor follow-through on his delivery. He said he’s worked to correct that problem.
“I feel that after I pitch a game,” he said, “the next day I won’t be as sore as I usually was. Because I’m using my legs and finishing (properly) and taking all of that stress off my arm.
“I can feel I’m finishing (my pitches). Some pitches, I feel like I’m just walking up to home plate after I finish the pitch.”
Cole Gillespie drew his first start since May 8 when manager Lloyd McClendon opted to rest Michael Saunders against Houston lefty Rudy Owens.
“He probably didn’t (need a day off),” McClendon said. “It’s probably more me. He still has a banged-up knee, and he’s been going at it pretty hard. We’re facing two lefties in a row. I thought I’d give him a day.”
Or viewed the other way: If Gillespie doesn’t rate a start against a lefty in his big-league debut, when does he start? Gillespie was hitless in three at-bats, although he scored a run after getting a walk in the fourth.
The Mariners’ bullpen is on a run of 15 2/3 scoreless innings over the last eight games — or since Tampa Bay nicked Fernando Rodney for two runs in the ninth in a 2-1 victory on May 13.
Overall, the relief corps entered Friday ranked fourth in the American League with a 3.14 ERA and has underscored its power by registering 138 strikeouts in 133 innings.
That ERA now stands at 3.11 after Charlie Furbush and Danny Farquhar combined for a scoreless ninth in the 6-1 victory over Houston. Five of the seven relievers entered Friday with ERAs below 3.00.
Mariners center fielder James Jones, with a single in the fourth, pushed his hitting streak to 13 games, which is the longest active streak among AL players. The club record for a rookie is 21 by Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
Jones also has at least one hit in all 14 of his career starts.
Second baseman Robinson Cano, with a single in the first inning, extended his career-best streak of reaching base at least once to 30 consecutive games. The club record is 47 by Alvin Davis in 1984.
Felix Hernandez reached 1,900 career innings, exactly, by going eight in Friday’s victory over the Astros.
Since Hernandez made his debut on Aug. 4, 2005, only Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia has worked more innings at 1,925. But Sabathia is battling a degenerative right knee and isn’t expected to pitch before July.
Hernandez’s 1,777 strikeouts are the most by any pitcher in the time frame dating to his debut.
Two of the top online outlets on the upcoming draft — Baseball America and MLB.com — offered their latest projections:
Baseball America has the Mariners selection Nick Gordon, a high school shortstop from Florida, with the sixth overall pick. Jim Callis of MLB.com predicts Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb.
“Mariners officials, including GM Jack Zduriencik,” Baseball America’s John Manuel observed, “have been in hard of late to evaluate Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb and N.C. State shortstop Trea Turner.
“If the Mariners are under pressure to take a college player, either would make sense, but so would Florida high school shortstop Nick Gordon, generally considered a better prospect and a Seattle target for much of the spring.”
Callis wrote: “If none of the top five prospects fall, most of Seattle’s options will be college products: Newcomb, (Louisiana State right-hander Aaron) Nola, Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto and North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner.”
When James Jones led off the Mariners’ first against Houston starter Rudy Owens, it marked the first time that two No. 99s have faced each other in major-league history. Only 14 players have worn that number…A quip from manager Lloyd McClendon when asked what it said about the Mariners that they had 12 comeback victories: “It says we’ve been down in a lot of games. I’d rather not have those comeback wins. I’d rather just lead wire-to-wire.”…The Astros recalled Owens from Triple-A Oklahoma City just prior to the game to start Friday after right-hander Brad Peacock was scratched because of soreness in his right forearm…Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (yes, Kyle Seager’s brother) was cited by Baseball America as the No. 1 player on its weekly Prospect Hot Sheet after going 18-for-30 at Hi-A Rancho Cucamonga with three homers and 11 RBIs.
It was 19 years ago Saturday — May 24, 1995 — that Mike Blowers tied a club record by getting eight RBIs in a game. He went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and a homer in a 15-6 victory over Boston at the Kingdome.
The eight RBIs matched a record set by Alvin Davis May 9, 1986 vs. Toronto and matched again by Mike Cameron on Aug. 19, 2001 at New York.
The Mariners continue their four-game series against the Astros at 7:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field. Note the time: It’s the first 7:10 p.m. Saturday home game of the season.
Right-hander Brandon Maurer (1-2 with a 6.00 ERA) returns to the rotation after being skipped on the last cycle. Houston made a late change after Friday’s game and is now starting lefty Brett Oberholtzer (0-6, 5.68).
The Astros are shifting lefty Dallas Keuchel (5-2 and 2.92) to Sunday’s series finale. He’ll pitch against right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (3-0 and 1.76) at 1:10 p.m.