Wilhelmsen, Paxton address fans at Mariners FanFest

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen has impressed new manager Lloyd McClendon with a strong start to his spring, which bodes well for Seattle's bullpen if the big right-hander stays on track.

Wilhelmsen lost his job as the Mariners' closer midway through a tough 2013 season, but could provide a strong setup option behind new closer Fernando Rodney if all goes well.

"He's throwing as well as anybody in camp right now," McClendon said. "I've been very pleased."

Wilhelmsen saved 29 games with a 2.50 ERA in 2012 after taking over the closer's role from Brandon League in midseason, and he was outstanding in the first two months last year as well before running into some control issues and eventually being sent down to Triple-A Tacoma as Danny Farquhar assumed ninth-inning duties.

But McClendon likes what he's seen from the lanky right-hander.

"I think Willie is very relaxed," said the skipper. "He's gotten back off the mat, so to speak, and he's competing again. It's good to see the look in his eye, the fire in his eye, the confidence. He's throwing extremely well.

"We all get our butts kicked from time to time, but at some point you've got to get back up and start fighting again. This kid is back up and he's fighting. We all know the stories of last year and blown saves and all that. But I told him, 'Look, we're all human. It happens to everybody. Put it behind you and move forward.' And he's done that and you're seeing the big arm and all the pitches and everything is working great for him."

Wilhelmsen has a 3.86 ERA in five Cactus League outings, but both earned runs he gave up came in an outing against the Indians when two defensive misplays kept the inning alive. In his last three appearances, he's thrown four scoreless innings with two hits, no walks and four strikeouts.

Cano continues tear with two hits, two RBIs

CHC@SEA: Cano's RBI double puts Mariners on board

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Robinson Cano may be a five-time All-Star who just signed a $240 million deal with the Mariners, but Seattle's new second baseman isn't taking anything for granted this spring despite his hot start at the plate.

Manager Lloyd McClendon originally planned to give Cano the day off Thursday after he'd played three Cactus League games in a row and continued his hot start to the spring, but the 10th-year Major League veteran said he wanted to stay in the lineup after missing four games last week following a root canal surgery.

Cano wound up going 2-for-4 with two RBIs in Seattle's 6-3 victory over the D-backs and is now hitting a crisp .609 (14-for-23) with six RBIs on the spring.

The former Yankees standout said he's still adjusting to a new situation and just wants to do everything he can to be ready when the regular season begins on March 31.

"Yeah. I mean, new team, new division," Cano said. "I want to get as many at-bats as I can. I was out for four days and next thing you know, the season is right there around the corner. So I'm getting as many at-bats as I can right now so I can get ready for Opening Day. I don't want to feel like I should have taken a few more at-bats or this or that. I feel good, but I don't want to take that for granted."

That approach is welcomed by McClendon.

"He's been out a while and he said he wanted to play," McClendon said. "So what do you do? He wants to play, you play him."

Cano drove in a run with a ground ball in the first inning Thursday, added a sharp RBI single to right-center in the second and then stroked another base hit up the middle in the seventh before being replaced by a pinch-runner.

"I feel good," Cano said. "For me, as long as I'm hitting the ball the other way, that's good. My goal in Spring Training and also in the season is to use the whole field. That's where I want to stay."

As for his .600-plus batting average?

"I'll take that," Cano said with a grin. "I would say this -- if you work hard, you get good results. I always come early, do my job, get my work in the cage and keep my routine. I don't want to feel short, like I should have come earlier. You do what you need to do to get it going."

"Robbie can hit," said McClendon. "He knows how to get ready and he's been going at it very well. He's working extremely hard and is bringing other guys along with him. I've been very impressed with how he goes about his business."

Walker throws, says shoulder 'feels really good'

Taijuan Walker on preparing for the 2014 season

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker said he "had a big smile" after throwing a 25-pitch bullpen session Thursday, his first time pitching off a mound since being completely shut down for a week on Feb. 28 with bursitis in his right shoulder.

Walker has played catch and long toss over the last week to build his arm strength back up, but getting up on a mound was a big step in his return as the Mariners are hoping to regain the services of their top young pitching prospect sometime in April.

"Today was a great relief," said the 21-year-old, who is the No.-6 ranked prospect in baseball by MLB.com. "I finally feel normal again. I can finally go out and just be normal and play catch and not worry about anything.

"I'm excited. It kind of feels like I just got here. It feels really good."

Walker was expected to land a rotation berth this spring after going 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three late-season starts last year. But he arrived at Spring Training with a sore shoulder after working hard to prepare himself for camp and was eventually shut down for seven days after tests showed some inflammation, but no structural damage.

The youngster from Yucaipa, Calif., had thrown two bullpen sessions before being shut down, but said he felt like he was starting over now with a fresh arm. Thursday's session was tightly controlled as he threw 25 fastballs, with no breaking balls, and didn't go full out.

"I just wanted to go out and get the feel for it and feel myself out," he said. "It felt good. I did get after it about the last 10 or so and it felt real good."

Manager Lloyd McClendon told reporters earlier in the morning the session would be "private," which is difficult to do at the Mariners' open practice facility. But Walker did throw earlier than normal, before the media was out on the field.

"It's nothing different," McClendon said. "I just don't want to turn this into a sideshow. I understand the inquiries about him and people wondering about his health. But he's fine. He just needs to go back to being one of the regular guys. TV cameras and reporters in there for his bullpen session, he doesn't need that right now. He needs to get back into his groove."

Walker said he wasn't worried about any distractions, however.

"No, not really. I just want to go out and get healthy," he said. "The media is always going to be there. I just want to go out there and pitch and feel normal again and throw without any pain or soreness."

Walker will play light catch on Friday to see how the shoulder responds, then throw a 40-pitch bullpen session in another day or two if all goes as planned. Eventually he'll advance to live batting practice or simulated game action against hitters before being able to throw in games.

The Mariners have already said he won't be ready for the start of the season on March 31 and presumably will need several weeks or more beyond that to build his arm strength up to be able to start and throw six or seven innings in a Major League game.

Walker knows that is all somewhat out of his control at this point.

"Definitely the sooner, the better," he said. "But I just have to listen to those guys in the training room. Whatever they say goes."

Worth noting

• Right fielder Corey Hart sat out for the fourth straight day Thursday due to tightness in his lower back, but McClendon said he expects Hart to return Friday against the Rockies.

• Right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor is "throwing extremely well," McClendon said, as he continues coming back from surgery to repair his latissimus dorsi muscle last September. McClendon said "I wouldn't think it's out of the realm of possibility" for Pryor to take the mound in a game at some point this spring after throwing well in his most recent simulated outing.

• After starting the spring 0-for-16 at the plate, outfielder Stefen Romero has gone 8-for-15 with two doubles, two triples and a home run to raise his Cactus League average to .258.

• Alisia Anderson, who has extensive experience in meeting planning, convention sales and special events, has joined the Mariners as director of ballpark sales and marketing for Safeco Field. The Penn State graduate spent seven years at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas before moving to Seattle in 2013 to take a position with the Red Lion Hotel in Seattle.