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Originally published March 19, 2014 at 5:39 PM | Page modified March 20, 2014 at 3:31 PM

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After Felix Hernandez, rotation still a puzzle for Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton are good bets to be in Seattle’s rotation but injuries to Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma have created openings.




Times staff reporter

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PEORIA, Ariz. — The Mariners begin the regular season March 31 in Anaheim against the Angels.

Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon knows who he will send to the mound that night — Felix Hernandez.

After that, though, it’s a bit of a jumble, even with the regular season less than two weeks away.

Asked Wednesday if he’d like to have a better idea of exactly how the rotation will look, McClendon said, “Yeah, I would,’’ then responded that other than Hernandez, nothing is set.

Some of that answer, though, might just be McClendon’s apparent desire not to tip his hand.

There’s little doubt that James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez will be two other members of the rotation when the season begins. They have each pitched well this spring, typifying a group of starters that has generally performed well.

The intrigue rests with the last two spots, a situation that exists largely due to injuries that will leave heralded rookie Taijuan Walker and last year’s No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma unavailable for opening day.

The good news is that each continues to make positive strides in recovery, enough so that each is expected to return to the rotation by late April.

Iwakuma was cleared Tuesday to take off a splint on his injured finger and could begin throwing soon. Walker, meanwhile, threw a 40-pitch bullpen session Wednesday as he recovers from shoulder bursitis, this time mixing in a few curveballs. Afterward, Walker said his arm felt “really good” and that he was “pumped about that.”

So was McClendon, who said Walker threw the ball “extremely well” in an “encouraging” session.

Still, the Mariners will need other pitchers to fill the four and five spots in April (though six off days from April 7 to May 6 will mitigate some of the need). Veteran Scott Baker is probably the leader for the No. 4 spot, but holdover Blake Beavan, minor-leaguer Roenis Elias and nonroster invitee veterans Randy Wolf and Zach Miner are contenders for that and the No. 5 spot.

In spring training, who is hot and who is not can change swiftly.

Wolf, 37, had a few rocky starts early before throwing four sharp innings Tuesday against the Padres, allowing no runs and two hits in four innings.

Wolf has 368 starts, mostly with the Phillies and Brewers, the fifth-most among active pitchers, but missed the 2013 season with Tommy John surgery, the second of his career. Seattle signed him in February after watching him during a private bullpen session in Pasadena, Calif., in November.

After Tuesday’s game, Wolf said he feels he’s answered questions about whether he can still pitch.

“I felt like with me, the only question that would be out there is whether I could survive this surgery and come out feeling and looking like I’m healthy,” said Wolf, whose contract reportedly includes a $1 million bonus for making the team. “And so far, I feel like I’ve done that.”

Less than 18 hours after Wolf left the mound feeling like he was on the right track, Beavan retreated shaking his head after allowing four home runs among eight hits and seven runs allowed overall in 52 / 3 innings in a 9-7 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon.

It was the first bad outing of the spring for Beavan, who had given up just three earned runs in 122 / 3 previous innings.

A wind blowing out to left-center didn’t help. But Beavan acknowledged he left too many pitches up and said, “I was just a little off today and couldn’t recover.’’

McClendon said the wind wasn’t an excuse.

“Regardless of what the conditions are, you’ve got to pitch down in the zone and we didn’t do that very well today,” McClendon said. “He got the ball up in the zone and it just wasn’t there.”

Also trending up is Elias, coming off a solid outing Sunday against the Angels, but the Mariners might be reluctant to move him straight to the majors from Class AA. Miner might be better suited for the bullpen. And a little out of sight at the moment is Brandon Maurer, the star of camp a year ago who is battling neck and back issues and has pitched just 42 / 3 innings this spring.

Wolf says regardless of how it turns out — and whether he’s a part of it — that the rotation should be a strength.

“I’ve always said you never get excited about numbers in March,” Wolf said. “But there’s a lot to be excited about with the talent that is here and the arms that are here.”

Now, to figure out how it all fits.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699

or bcondotta@seattletimes.com



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