Taijuan Walker’s ascension to a spot in the Seattle Mariners rotation is on hold.
The Mariners shut down their top pitching prospect for at least one week on Friday after exams revealed inflammation in the bursa of his right shoulder. Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said the decision was made after Walker flew to Los Angeles to get a second opinion on the sore shoulder that has limited him during spring training.
“It definitely (stinks),” Walker said. “I feel good about the situation. I’d rather not push it and fight through something and make it worse. I’m just going to take the time off, get healthy and move on.”
Walker was examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerlan Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles on Thursday. He confirmed the original diagnosis of the Mariners medical staff in Arizona. For now it appears to be a minor setback and something many pitchers experience at one time.
But Walker was being counted on by Seattle to be at the back end of its rotation and answer at least one question behind ace Felix Hernandez and American League Cy Young finalist Hisashi Iwakuma. Even Iwakuma’s status is a bit of an unknown as he has yet to throw because of a finger injury. Iwakuma was having his finger re-examined later Friday.
The entire starting staff is in flux aside from Hernandez.
“(A) lot of opportunities and we have a lot of big arms to hopefully take advantage of those opportunities,” McClendon said. “We’ll see what happens. I just hope they don’t all eliminate themselves. Then we have a problem.”
Walker is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. The 21-year-old has quickly risen through the Seattle farm system and his major league debut at the end of last season only heightened expectations about what he could bring to the Mariners rotation in the future. Walker made three starts last September with a 1-0 record and 3.60 ERA.
Walker showed up for camp with a sore throwing shoulder and had been limited to throwing off flat ground so far. He had long toss throwing sessions on back-to-back days earlier this week, leading to the hope of a bullpen session, but that has now been altered. Walker said he could feel the discomfort in his shoulder when he threw but didn’t consider it painful, but rather more nagging.
“This guy, we’re not just talking about 2014, we’re hopefully talking about the next 15 years,” McClendon said. “We have to be cautious and we have to be smart.”
Walker is taking anti-inflammatory medication along with giving his arm a rest in the hope the inflammation will clear up. He said the visit to Los Angeles was reassuring, as was word that his MRI exams were clear and showed no structural damage.
“Honestly, I’m just going to try and take it day by day, see how I feel each day and not worry about the start of the season, just worry about getting ready first, getting healthy first,” Walker said. “I don’t want to get too ahead of myself and push anything.”
Walker’s won’t be going back to the beginning of his program but it could be difficult to have him ready by opening day due to the week of rest. If he follows the plans of Seattle’s other starters, Walker would start with flat-ground throwing, followed by three bullpens and two sessions of throwing live batting practice before possibly throwing a simulated game. That’s a best-case scenario and only works if he doesn’t experience any discomfort in the shoulder through the process before finally getting into an actual game setting.
“As far as the actual amount of time, it’s hard to say that because we still have to go the day-to-day thing, but we want to have a plan for him so he can look down and in his mind know where he is at and where he is going to be,” Seattle head athletic trainer Rick Griffin said. “But the biggest thing is it has to be progression, day-to-day and pain free.”