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Seattle Mariners Would Be Making a Mistake by Starting Taijuan Walker the Rest of the Year

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COMMENTARY | August 26 was a date long coming for the Seattle Mariners.

The team finally parted ways with Aaron Harang, who compiled a 5.76 ERA while making 22 starts as a stopgap.

It was pretty much a given that the ineffective Harang was going to be released, at least by September call-ups. The problem is whom the Mariners are choosing to fill Harang's rotation spot with. The team announced that top prospect Taijuan Walker would start August 30 against the Houston Astros.

Walker is currently the most exciting player in the Mariners' farm system and one of the most hyped pitchers in Seattle in quite some time. The 21-year-old has risen quickly through the minor leagues because of an electrifying high-90s fastball and an effective curve ball. After breezing through AA, Walker had a 3.61 ERA and a strikeout rate of 26% in 11 AAA starts.

It just seems a little unnecessary for such a young player that carries so much of the club's future hopes to be starting in September in a lost season. The Mariners are taking a risk with Walker's confidence, as he still has some things to learn in AAA, or much worse, his health. He will be part of the rotation at some point in 2014, so there's not much to gain by giving him a few starts right now.

The Mariners have to be concerned with Walker's workload, as he has already thrown 141.1 innings between AA and AAA this season. A bigger key than the amount of innings is to not increase Walker's innings year to year too much, as he is already past his professional career high of 126.2. An increase of around 20 innings is probably about what the team wants, and any more becomes a major gamble.

A more logical option would be to have Walker make his final start in AAA and shut him down for the year, and give the rotation sport to Brandon Maurer or Hector Noesi. Like Walker, Maurer is very young and needs some work in the minor leagues, but he has thrown nearly 30 fewer innings and is two years older. Starting Noesi, or at worst Blake Beavan, might be effectively punting every fifth day, but it's the least risky option overall, and the Mariners should be focused on the future.

Walker has drawn a few comparisons to Felix Hernandez, who similarly rose through the minors and made his major-league debut when he was 19 years old. But every pitcher is vastly different with injuries and how much their shoulders can take, and the Mariners might even be a bit fortunate that Hernandez didn't suffer a serious injury while throwing nearly 200 innings in both his age 20 and age 21 seasons. Hernandez should be viewed as more an exception than a rule.

I want to see Walker pitch in a Mariners uniform. We all do. But now is not the right time.

Nathaniel Reeves is a lifelong Seattle sports follower who is studying journalism at the University of Washington. He currently covers sports for The UW Daily.

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