No matter how hard he tries, Taijuan Walker can’t keep himself out of Tacoma.
While fans were surprised by the recent demotion of the right-handed pitcher from the Seattle Mariners to the Rainiers, Walker dialed in a solid but unflashy performance to help Tacoma beat Fresno, 7-2, Saturday night at Cheney Stadium.
With the win, the Rainiers moved in front of Fresno for third place in the Pacific Coast League standings.
The win also marked the first time the team has been within three games of .500 since May 21.
Walker (2-1) yielded one run and three hits in the first inning before turning authoritative, finishing with four hits scattered over his five innings with one strikeout. Other than a walk in the third, he didn’t allow any other Grizzlies to reach base through four innings.
“I had a battle. It was a grind, didn’t have my fastball, so I had to work in a lot off speed in there and keep them off balance,” Walker said. “I feel good though, everything feels really good, but I guess it was one of those days the feel wasn’t there, so you just got to find a way.”
Fresno third baseman Adam Duvall, the PCL-leader in home runs and RBIs, hammered a single to score Gary Brown for the first run of the game.
Jesus Montero hit his 11th home run of the season with one out in the bottom of the first. The go-ahead homer scored Xavier Avery and Chris Taylor and pushed Tacoma in front, 3-1.
“Montero made a nice swing on a ball and put us out in front real nice,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “Guys played well all the way around. Not a bunch of hits, but timely hits. Good pitching and we played defense and that usually gets you a win.”
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Ty Kelly drew a walk to score Avery and extend Tacoma’s lead, 4-1.
John Hicks, starting at catcher in place of Humberto Quintero , hammered a two-run single to score Taylor and Montero. Gabriel Noriega added more insurance with a sacrifice fly to score Kelly.
Avery tallied his 12th double of the season to go along with two stolen bases and finished the night 2-for-4.
Tacoma center fielder Abraham Almonte, who recorded Friday night’s game-winning hit and entered hitting .360 in his last 14 games, struggled against the Grizzlies in an 0-for-4 outing.
Tacoma matched its six total hits from the night before.
Walker can potentially pitch once more during the major league All-Star break on July 17 before being called back up to the majors, as is expected. Seattle’s likely motive behind optioning Walker was to maintain his pitching schedule through the break.
The Rainiers will play the final game of their three-game homestand against Fresno on Saturday at 1:35 p.m. Tacoma is expected to start right-hander Matt Palmer (1-7, 5.12 ERA) against right-hander Mitch Lively (6-4, 5.12 ERA). The game can be heard on 850-AM.