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Walker yields 1 hit in 6 scoreless innings

Youngster continues team's stellar pitching after Montgomery shut down Padres on Tuesday

SAN DIEGO -- With Taijuan Walker cruising through six innings on just one hit with a 1-0 lead, manager Lloyd McClendon chose to lift the 22-year-old for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh in what turned into a 7-0 victory for the Mariners over the Padres.

McClendon had just made a quick trip to the mound with trainer Rob Nodine with two out in the sixth to check on Walker, but he said that had no bearing on his decision for the surprising early hook with the right-hander at just 76 pitches.

Video: [email protected]: Walker checked by trainer, stays in

"There are a lot of things that factored into pulling him," McClendon said after Walker won his sixth decision in his past seven starts. "No. 1, this is a young pitcher that is going deep into a lot of ballgames. At some point, we have to protect his innings and protect him.

"He may not like it, but in 12 years from now when he's still pitching in this league and flourishing, he'll thank me for it. He'll say, 'The old man knew what he was doing.'"

McClendon knows he'll need to be careful with Walker this season after the youngster threw only about 120 innings between the Majors and Minors in an injury-shorted 2014, so he felt the time was right to replace him with pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley with a runner on second and two out in the seventh.

That ploy worked when Ackley walked and Seattle wound up adding a crucial run on Robinson Cano's base hit for a 2-0 lead at that juncture.

"That was the No. 1 factor," McClendon said. "No. 2 is our bullpen is rested and ready to go. We just felt if we had a chance to pick up another run, it would pay off for us in this game."

Walker acknowledged some surprise at the move, but he wasn't about to argue the end result.

"A little bit, but we had an opportunity to score," he said. "We're competing in the National League, so we take all the runs we can get. We ended up scoring there, so it is what it is. It's part of the National League. But I thought it was a great team win. The offense did really good, and the bullpen came in and shut the door."

Walker was sterling as well, improving to 6-1 with a 1.68 ERA over his past seven starts. He's not issued a walk over the past 27 1/3 innings, the fourth-longest stretch in team history behind Cliff Lee (38 innings), Hisashi Iwakuma (35 2/3) and Jamie Moyer (28 1/3). He's had 51 strikeouts and three walks in his seven-game stretch after opening the year 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA when he walked 23 in 43 innings in nine games.

On the heels of rookie Mike Montgomery's one-hit shutout Tuesday, it was another impressive outing for Seattle's young duo.

"All of our youngsters have been throwing the ball extremely well," McClendon said. "Today was no different. Taijuan gave us a great outing."

And, yeah, there is something to having watched Montgomery cruise the night before.

"He threw a complete-game shutout, so certainly, competition between each other is fun," Walker said with a smile. "I wanted to go one-up him."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Taijuan Walker