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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

June 24, 2013 at 1:29 PM

“Big Three” being reunited on strong Tacoma staff (with minor-league report)

Taijuan Walker in spring training. Photo by Associated Press

Taijuan Walker in spring training. Photo by Associated Press

Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report. Tomorrow is a big day for followers of the Mariners’ minor-leaguers — or followers of the Mariners, period. Top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker makes his Triple-A debut, facing Fresno. Considering all the hype surrounding Walker, this should be the biggest event in Tacoma since Danny Hultzen squared up against Jamie Moyer last year. I expect a lot of media on hand to watch Walker. I’ll be there myself to write about it.

In fact, the Mariners’ “Big Three” pitching prospects, of whom we heard so much about last year when they were together in Jackson (until Hultzen got the call up to Tacoma) are about to be reunited. James Paxton was named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week today on the strength of two games in which he went 1-0 with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings. In his most recent outing, Paxton struck out a season-high 11 over six shutout innings against Fresno. Overall, Paxton is 4-5 with a 4.75 ERA in 15 starts. The 24-year-old lefty has been inconsistent in his first stint at Triple-A, but these last two starts are an encouraging sign he may be ready to turn the corner.

Meanwhile, lefty Danny Hultzen is set to return to the Rainiers after a long stint on the disabled list with a rotator cuff strain. He was off to a great start with Tacoma before the injury in late April, going 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in four starts, allowing 17 hits in 22.2 innings with 25 strikeouts and just six walks. It’s been a long road back, but in a rehab start last week in Arizona,  Hultzen worked five innings, giving up three hits and one run with eight strikeouts. He’s penciled in to start for Tacoma on Thursday.

Rounding out the dynamic Rainiers rotation — for now — are Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer. Ramirez is coming off a 10-strikeout effort in 5 2/3 innings yesterday and seems to be healthy and fully built up after struggling with his own arm issues in the first half. Overall, he’s 2-2 with a 2.23 ERA in five starts with Tacoma (to go with one good start for Jackson). It seems like only a matter of time before Ramirez joins the Mariners. I was pretty certain he would slide into Jeremy Bonderman’s spot after being on hand in Minnesota when Bonderman got lit up by the Twins in his major-league return. But I give Bonderman full credit for proving my skepticism to be ill-founded, at least so far. He’s made four strong starts in a row for the Mariners and has earned the right to stay around awhile. Aaron Harang’s inconsistency makes him more vulnerable to being subbed out for Ramirez; that’s a situation that bears watching.

Maurer is trying to get his groove back after pitching his way out of the Mariners rotation. He pitches tonight for the Rainiers, bringing a 1-1 record and 2.41 ERA in four starts since the Mariners sent him down.

The Mariners have a lot of potential reinforcements in Tacoma should some of those aforementioned veterans stumble, or they deal someone like Joe Saunders at the trade deadline. I didn’t even mention Andrew Carraway, who has been a consistent starter for the Rainiers this year (6-2, 3.41 ER in 12 starts). Carraway, however didn’t pitch at all on the Rainiers’ recent 12-game road trip because of what was termed a muscle issue in his back. He seems to be without a rotation spot until one of the current members gets the call. That’s already the case with Hector Noesi, who is working out the bullpen, and it seems to be the fate of 39-year-old Brian Sweeney, who has made eight starts this year.

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