PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez threw live batting practice to a couple Minor League hitters on Wednesday and will now have just one more bullpen session on the side before his Cactus League debut next Tuesday as the Mariners continue preparing their ace for his Opening Day start.
But young right-hander Taijuan Walker, the No. 6 ranked prospect in baseball by MLB.com, again was limited to just playing long toss in the outfield Wednesday. The Mariners are bringing the 21-year-old along very slowly this spring after he arrived in camp with a sore throwing shoulder.
"We'll see where he is in the next couple days," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Hopefully we'll get him back into bullpens and build him toward getting back on the mound."
Walker is expected to compete for a starting rotation berth. In fact, McClendon said before camp opened he'd be disappointed if the youngster didn't earn a starting job. But the clock is starting to tick with Cactus League games beginning Thursday, and Walker is behind all the other Mariners pitchers in camp, except for fellow right-hander Brandon Maurer, who also has been limited to long toss after dealing with a stiff back.
"I wouldn't say I'm concerned at this particular time," McClendon said. "Obviously he's a little bit behind, but I remember when I was in Spring Training in 1990, we had three weeks to get ready. And we got ready in three weeks. So I'm not that concerned as we speak now. I don't know what's going to happen in the next week, but we'll see."
Maurer played long toss with Walker and said he's finally back to feeling normal after his back issues, which he believes cropped up after he slept wrong.
"That's what I'm going with. I don't have a clue," Maurer said. "It gets better, then it tightens back up a little, then it gets better. But it hasn't tightened back up today, so we're thinking we're good to go."
As for Hernandez, he continues to look sharp. Of course, he was facing Minor League competition on Wednesday and yielded only one well-hit ball -- a line drive to left by Gabriel Guerrero, the 20-year-old nephew of Vladimir Guerrero -- in about 12 minutes of throwing.
Guerrero drew an "Atta boy," from Hernandez after his hit.
"Felix threw extremely well," McClendon said. "We're very pleased with that and will just keep building."
"I felt good," Hernandez said. "Real good. I left some sliders up, but otherwise everything was fine. I'm right on schedule."