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Mariners starter fans 8, walks none in 8 shutout innings
SEATTLE — The arrival of the Taijuan Walker the Mariners have been waiting to see came on the perfect night.
The starting staff was already reeling from the prolonged absence of No. 3 man Hisashi Iwakuma (lat strain) and Friday afternoon came the news that No. 2 starter James Paxtonwill be out for an unknown period of time with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand. With Walker coming off two starts in which he gave up a total of eight earned runs on 13 hits in 9 1/3 innings, Seattle needed the young and talented right-hander to live up to his monstrous potential.
He did it, and he did it fast. Walker worked quickly and with conviction and ended up pitching a career high-tying eight innings against the Indians. He didn’t allow a run, tied his career best with eight strikeouts, matched stellar Indians starter Trevor Bauer pitch for pitch and earned what turned out to be a a 2-1 victory that got the Mariners back to .500 at 24-24.
“Tonight was one of those starts that shows you a glimpse of the future,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said.
In some ways, however, it was a glimpse of the recent past — as in, Spring Training. Walker won the fifth spot in the rotation with a brilliant March in Arizona, beating out Roenis Elias, who has since performed admirably as the replacement for Iwakuma. The growing pains early this season have been evident and not entirely unexpected for a 22-year-old with a fastball that reaches 97 mph, but he said he was able to channel a little bit of that Cactus League feel on Friday night.
“I felt like in Spring Training I was in a rhythm, so today was trying to get back in that rhythm, and it felt really good,” said Walker, who improved his home ERA to 2.22 and didn’t get to a single three-ball count.
“I know he came in having some troubles, but there was so much life to that fastball,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It was a dominant fastball. Even when he probably threw it four out of five pitches, it was beating us for the most part. … There wasn’t a whole lot going on. A lot of it’s because of the way that kid threw.”
It was also because of the Mariners’ defense. Walker was aided by a spectacular play by second baseman Willie Bloomquist on a far-ranging snag of a ground ball and across-the-body throw to end the sixth, and left fielder Dustin Ackley hauled in a long Michael Brantleyfly ball with a lunging catch at the wall in the seventh.
He needed all that to keep up with the Indians the way Bauer was throwing, although he said the intensity of the tight game made it even more fun.
“You kind of want to outpitch the other pitcher, but at the same time you have to stay focused and pitch your game,” Walker said.
The Mariners hope that game becomes the norm for Walker as the season wears on.
“It was a tremendous outing,” McClendon said. “Something to really build on for his next start.”
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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