Walker's moxie impresses McClendon
ANAHEIM -- For young Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker, this has clearly been the tale of two seasons. And the Mariners like the second one a whole lot better.
The hard-throwing 22-year-old continued his recent surge with seven innings of one-run ball in Seattle's 3-1 win over the Angels on Friday, continuing the reversal from his early-season woes to even his record at 6-6 with a 4.64 ERA.
After going 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA in his first nine games, Walker is 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA his last six, and the Mariners are seeing the top young prospect they've been waiting for since his ascension through the Minor League ranks as one of baseball's premier young arms.
"He's starting to grow up," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "That's not to say he's not going to have a tough one here or there, but the ability to slow things down and relax in pressure situations has been, in my mind, just unbelievable. The transformation has been so quick and he's made such a great statement that it's really nice to see."
Walker clearly is finding his way now in this first full season as a starter. After giving up a first-inning homer on a 2-0 fastball to Mike Trout, Walker shut out the Angels the rest of the way, including an escape act with runners on second and third with one out in the sixth, when he struck out David Freese and got a fly out from Matt Joyce.
"Definitely, I feel more confident up there, just calm, especially when I get in big situations," Walker said. "I'm just trusting [catcher Mike Zunino] back there. He's calling the right pitch every time, and I'm just executing the pitches."
After walking 23 batters in his first nine outings, Walker has issued just three passes in his last six and none in his last 21 1/3 innings.
"That's phenomenal for any pitcher, but a power pitcher to boot," said McClendon. "His command of the fastball has just been tremendous."
"I feel pretty good," Walker acknowledged. "I think the biggest think is me and Z are just attacking everyone. We don't want to give them any free passes. We've just been going right after them with the fastball and then just working off that."
Zunino said it's a matter of Walker trusting his command now, willing to elevate fastballs when needed, as he did to strike out Freese for what might have been the biggest out of the game in the sixth.
"It's a different animal," Zunino said of the turnaround. "He's out there with full confidence. He's throwing the ball as well as I've seen him. When you can command the top and the bottom of the zone, it's a lot harder than you think, especially with his velocity. Hopefully he can keep that going because he's in a pretty good groove here."