SEATTLE -- With new manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto already preaching that "controlling the strike zone" will be a motto for Mariners pitchers and hitters this season, they have a welcome disciple in young starting pitcher Taijuan Walker.Walker discovered on his own last year the importance of
SEATTLE -- With new manager Scott Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto already preaching that "controlling the strike zone" will be a motto for Mariners pitchers and hitters this season, they have a welcome disciple in young starting pitcher Taijuan Walker.
Walker discovered on his own last year the importance of throwing strikes and reducing walks, as he overcame early command issues to completely turn around his first full season as a starter.
The hard-throwing right-hander went 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA in his first nine starts, with 23 walks and 39 strikeouts in 43 innings. But once he started focusing more on commanding the zone, he went 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA with 17 walks and 118 strikeouts over 126 2/3 innings in his last 20 outings.
So when Servais and Dipoto deliver their message before pitchers report to camp for the first time on Friday in Peoria, Ariz., they won't have a hard time convincing the 23-year-old Walker.
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"I think it's huge," said Walker, who is already in Peoria working out and throwing prior to pitchers and catchers officially reporting. "Strike one is definitely a big part of it and on the one-and-one count, you want to get ahead 1-2 instead of 2-1 and keep the walks down as much as possible."
What exactly clicked last year when he turned things around?
"I just got real aggressive," Walker said. "I went right after the hitters and made them put the ball in play. I wasn't going for the strikeouts as much and I really tried not to get to three balls. I tried to attack them early and get the easy, quick out."
Walker could be a key figure in the Mariners' fortunes this year. While veterans Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley are atop the rotation, a strong season by Walker would greatly bolster that group and the team's postseason hopes.
"I'm excited," Walker said. "There is definitely a lot of change. A new manager, a new GM, a bunch of new teammates. But I think it's good -- a fresh start for everyone. We're just coming into the season with no expectations and ready to play some baseball."
The Yucaipa, Calif., native knows he's got a lot of room for improvement even after his strong final four months last season. It's one thing to throw strikes and another to throw quality strikes, and that will be his primary focus this spring, along with improving a four-seam changeup he's been working on over the offseason.
Against Major League hitters, it's not as simple as just filling up the strike zone and challenging them with heat.
"Yeah, I gave up a lot of home runs by doing that," said Walker, who tied for ninth in the American League in most homers allowed with 25. "I'll have a year under me and a little more confidence now, so I'll try to pound the bottom of the zone and get really good with my strikes. Don't leave it over the middle too much, don't give up too many home runs, but at the same time don't walk too many.
"This is a huge year for me. I started off real slow last year and then picked it up toward the end, so I want to start off hot and just be consistent through the whole year."
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.