The Mariners have agreed to a minor league pact with former Red Sox right-hander Marcus Walden. The signing was first announced by the Gastonia Honey Hunters of the independent Atlantic League, for whom Walden had been pitching to begin the season. Mariners director of Triple-A communications Paul Braverman tweets that Walden will join the team’s Triple-A rotation, making his first start today.
Now 34 years old, Walden pitched well in Boston from 2018-19, totaling 92 2/3 innings of 3.79 ERA ball with a 23.3% strikeout rate and 9.1% walk rate. That includes 78 frames of 3.81 ERA ball in a supercharged 2019 run-scoring environment that saw 58 players club at least 30 home runs. Walden was hit hard in 13 1/3 innings during the shortened 2020 campaign (14 runs in 13 1/3 innings) and hasn’t pitched in the Majors since, however. He’s had stints with the Triple-A clubs for the Red Sox, Cubs and Brewers along the way, pitching to a mid-4.00s ERA at each stop.
Over the past two seasons, Walden has spent 70 1/3 innings pitching with the Atlantic League’s Gastonia club, working to a combined 2.82 ERA. That includes 20 innings of 2.70 ball so far in 2023, though it’s perhaps his 24-to-2 K/BB ratio that’s garnered more attention (31.2% strikeout rate, 2.6% walk rate).
Seattle’s rotation took a huge hit early in the season when former AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray required Tommy John surgery, but the team’s rotation remains strong. Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert have all pitched well — Kirby, in particular — and rookie Bryce Miller has come up to the Majors and stepped seamlessly onto the starting staff. In 25 1/3 innings over his first four outings, he’s logged a sensational 1.42 ERA with a 25% strikeout rate against a 2.3% walk rate.
The fifth spot is a bit murkier. Veteran Marco Gonzales had been posting solid enough numbers for much of the season, but a recent eight-run drubbing at the hands of the Red Sox sent his ERA skyrocketing from 4.42 to 6.10. He’s now yielded eight runs in two of his past four starts (although three of those were unearned). Fellow vet Chris Flexen has struggled when he’s been asked to step into the rotation as well.
The journeyman Walden isn’t likely to jump into that mix anytime soon, but he’ll join southpaw Tommy Milone as an experienced arm in Tacoma who could be called upon for a spot start or to give the ’pen some length if the need arises. In 366 2/3 career innings at the Triple-A level, Walden has a 4.47 ERA.
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