Mariners, Walker hope gem a glimpse of future
MINNEAPOLIS -- Things haven't always gone smoothly for Taijuan Walker this season. But Friday night at Target Field, the hard-throwing 22-year-old showed a strong glimpse of what could be for the Mariners future as he fired a one-hitter at the Twins in a 6-1 victory.
Walker gave up only a home run to Miguel Sano in the fourth inning in a dominant outing that included a career-high-tying 11 strikeouts and just 101 pitches in his first nine-inning complete game.
"I would say that's his best outing to date," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He had everything working, his tempo was outstanding and he was commanding all four pitches. When you're a power guy like that and all four pitches are working and you're able to throw any for a strike when you want to, it's going to be a long night for the opponent. And 96-97 [mph on the fastball] doesn't hurt either."
The Mariners badly needed a strong outing -- for Walker, their bullpen and their recently struggling rotation. Seattle's starters were 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA over the previous six games, but the young right-hander reversed that trend in impressive fashion and halted the Mariners' four-game losing streak.
Those rough starts had taken a toll on Seattle's relievers as well, but they were able to sit out Friday's game and figure to benefit from the break.
"I know we've been using them a lot and I had to go pretty deep in the game," Walker said.
Other than a changeup he left in the middle of the plate for Sano, Walker was untouched. He walked Joe Mauer in the first, but the only other baserunner reached on an error by Brad Miller in the seventh. Sano was the only Twins hitter to touch second base in the game, and catcher Mike Zunino said the 1-0 pitch to the rookie third baseman was Walker's only mistake of the night.
"Changeup," Walker said. "I just left it down the middle and he's a big boy."
Walker had gone 6-1 with a 1.68 ERA in seven starts from May 29 to July 1, but was 0-1 with an 8.02 ERA over his last four outings. So this was a needed step back in the right direction, and the youngster credited an improved curveball with paving the way.
"I felt like a lot of teams are sitting fastball early now, so if I can show the curveball early and show them I'm throwing it for strikes, it just opens things up for the rest of the game," Walker said.
And in the process, Walker showed why he's one of the more highly touted young pitchers in the game.
"Days like today are special," McClendon said. "This guy has a great repertoire and when it's on, it's on."
"It probably was my best outing," Walker said. "But I just have to move on now and get ready for the next one."