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."
McClendon has positive outlook for replay
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Major League Baseball officials continued making the rounds to Spring Training camps to provide the latest updates on instant replay and the new plate-blocking rules for catchers, with the Mariners getting their session Tuesday afternoon along with seven other teams that play on the west side of Phoenix.
Former managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa are among the MLB group providing insights and taking questions and new Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon said the two-plus-hour session was helpful. McClendon, general manager Jack Zduriencik, assistant GM Jeff Kingston, bench coach Trent Jewett and video coordinator Jimmy Hartley represented the Mariners.
"I've got a big, thick book right here," McClendon said, tapping a stack of papers on his desk. "I thought they were great with their explanations. I think it'll be a give-and-take thing. It's going to take some time, but they've implemented a nice system. There'll be some bugs to work out, but in the end I think it's going to be good for baseball."
McClendon said the session mostly reinforced what already had been explained at the Winter Meetings. He plans to post a list of what plays are reviewable in the dugout initially to help keep things clear.
"It's a learning process," he said.
As for the home-plate collision ruling, McClendon -- who came up as a catcher before switching to outfield and first base in his playing days -- is all in favor of the new concept.
"Basically what they're saying is we don't want runners changing directions and going after catchers," McClendon said. "The catcher can still block the plate. And if the catcher blocks the plate, then the runner can run him over. But the catcher can't block the plate without the ball."
McClendon doesn't think that rule will greatly change how catchers set up as a runner is bearing down on them.
"We'll talk about it with our catchers," he said. "It's important they understand they have to give some plate. And if you really look at the vicious hits when it comes to home-plate collisions, most of the time the catcher is in front of the plate, blocking the plate, and doesn't really give the runner any recourse.
"So from that standpoint, we need to educate our catchers as to what they can do and giving them a lane, which really hasn't changed in the last 100 years. I was taught, you give them part of the plate, give them something to shoot for. And if you do that, they won't come after you."
Healthy Beavan eyes role on Mariners' staff
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Blake Beavan isn't worrying about anyone else's perception. The big right-hander says he's back to full health after dealing with tendinitis in his left knee that took a couple ticks off his fastball last year and he's eager to give things a go this Spring Training in search of either a starting job or long relief role.
The 25-year-old Texan went 11-11 with a 4.43 ERA in 26 starts in 2012, but made just two early season starts last year and then spent the rest of the year either in Triple-A or working out of the bullpen in two stints with the big league club.
"This year, I'm just flying under the radar," said the 2007 first-round Draft pick of the Rangers. "There's not a lot of hype or a whole lot of pressure. I just feel like it's my job to win a job, whether it's starter or long guy again -- whatever I can do to help."
Pitching coach Rick Waits, who worked quite a bit with Beavan last year as the club's Minor League pitching coordinator, isn't ruling the 6-foot-7, 245-pounder out of the starting mix in which the only sure things are Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
"He's in there," Waits said. "We have seven or eight legitimate starters here fighting for those spots. I like competition. It makes everybody better. We just have to wait and see how guys take the ball and run with it. I'm old school. Go take it. It shouldn't be a gift. It should be, go out and earn it."
That works for Beavan, who just wants a chance to show what he can do now that his knee feels better and he's another year older and stronger. He'll get his first chance in the Cactus League opener against the Padres on Thursday, when he's scheduled to pitch after Erasmo Ramirez.
"I told Waits and those guys, 'I'm healthy this year, I know I can contribute, whether it's starting or in the bullpen,'" said Beavan. "I think I proved last year I can be a long guy. So I'm just going to go out this spring and compete. That's all you can control and let those guys decide what they want to see. There are a lot of guys in camp and there's a lot of opportunity."
Beavan's best shot might be to grab a job as a swing man in the bullpen as when he's on, he's an innings eater who throws strikes. While he was 0-2 with a 6.13 ERA in 12 appearances last year, he put up a 3.79 ERA in 19 innings as a long man in five appearances in his second stint with the club in midseason.
"I know the coaches love the competition and there are a lot of spots open," he said. "Besides Felix and Iwakuma, it should be interesting how it all pans out."
• The Mariners have mapped out a tentative schedule for their starting pitchers for the first week of Cactus League games: Ramirez (Thursday vs. Padres), James Paxton (Friday at Padres), Scott Baker (Saturday vs. Angels), Randy Wolf (Sunday at Indians), Beavan (Monday vs. Rockies) and Ramirez (Monday at Reds), Hernandez (Tuesday at Dodgers) and Paxton (Wednesday vs. Indians).
McClendon said he's looking for his starters to throw two innings their first outings, with about a 40-pitch count limit.
• McClendon said no decision has been made yet on who will fill in for third-base coach John Stearns, who underwent surgery to repair a hernia on Monday and will be forced to miss at least four to six weeks.
• MTV was in camp Wednesday shooting scenes with Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge for a new series called "Off the Bat from MLB Fan Cave" that premiers in April on MTV2.