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McClendon: No clearer picture on starting rotation

Mariners dealing with key absences as part of determining top five

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The state of the Mariners' rotation has become a bit of a moving target midway through spring, not exactly sticking to the original plan after a couple of key injuries in Arizona have changed the scenario.

Suddenly, two veteran non-roster invitees -- Scott Baker and Randy Wolf -- are perhaps even more in the mix than they were before, and the timetables for the return of 2013 breakout star Hisashi Iwakuma and rising phenom Taijuan Walker are unknown.

Day by day, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon and his staff are gathering the information and making the assessments that eventually will bring together a starting five for the opening of the season.

After Baker struggled a bit with command -- hitting three batters in a row at one point in the first inning -- but overall came through his latest outing fairly well in a 10-6 Mariners victory over the Angels on Tuesday, the skipper said the picture really isn't any clearer.

"I still think we've got some quality arms in camp, but nothing's changed from yesterday or the day before," McClendon said after Tuesday's game when asked his thoughts on where the rotation stands. "I can't tell you my thoughts about the rotation at this particular time. We'll continue to run them out there and see what happens."

Other than ace Felix Hernandez, the rotation remains a relatively open competition, not an ideal scenario with less than three weeks remaining before Opening Day, yet not something for which the Mariners are unprepared.

Although Iwakuma is still a week or so away from throwing again, the team is getting some better news on Walker, at least. For the first time since being shut down for a few days last week with shoulder soreness, the 21-year-old right-hander will throw a bullpen session on Thursday, after doing some throwing on flat ground Tuesday and some easy catch Wednesday.

For this next turn in the rotation, the Mariners are planning to go with Wolf on Wednesday, followed by Erasmo Ramirez, Hernandez, young lefty James Paxton and then Baker again. But McClendon cautions that rotation for the next few exhibition games doesn't mean that's the five the team is considering in the lead.

In terms of Baker and Wolf, McClendon said the club intends to pitch them in Cactus League games, as opposed to other ways of them getting their work.

"If I'm going to do evaluations, it's only fair to those guys that they're in 'A' games to do that evaluation, not a 'B' game, not a Minor League camp game. I think that's just fair to them," McClendon said.

That means two other young pitchers on the 40-man roster who are candidates for the rotation -- Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer -- likely are set up to make their next appearances either in relief in a Cactus League game or as a starter in a Minor League game.

"Our Minor League camp is open, so we'll do what we have to do to get the innings in," McClendon said.

For his part, Baker was pleased with his outing Tuesday, another step forward beyond Tommy John surgery that robbed him of most of his 2012 and '13 seasons. He came back to make three September starts with the Cubs last season before signing with the Mariners in January.

"Physically, this is about as good as I've felt in a really long time, so I'm excited about that," Baker said.

Baker settled down Tuesday after his first-inning troubles, which included loading the bases with hit batters, but he didn't allow a run. He gave up three runs in the second, but all were unearned, and he wound up allowing five runs (two earned) on five hits.

"Of course, the first inning I was having trouble getting on top of the ball, especially the breaking ball," Baker said. "All the pitches that hit guys were offspeed."

Said McClendon: "He just couldn't find his slot on his breaking ball, but when he did throw it down in the zone, it was pretty good. All in all, it was a fair outing, not a great outing."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Scott Baker, Blake Beavan, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, Randy Wolf