Even Mother Nature wanted to see Taijuan Walker make his Triple A debut. On a night filled with intermittent rain, the skies stayed clear enough for the Mariners’ top pitching prospect to pitch his first game for the Tacoma Rainier without delay or soggy discomfort.
And in that brief relatively precipitation-free period, Walker looked more than comfortable on the Cheney Stadium mound, delivering an outstanding performance against the Fresno Grizzlies in the Rainiers’ 1-0 win.
The hard-throwing right-hander pitched six shutout innings, giving up just three hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He threw 87 pitches with 56 of them going for strikes. And of the 23 batters he faced, he threw 16 first-pitch strikes.
He certainly didn’t look like a 20-year-old kid pitching against players four to eight years older than him.
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Walker struck out the first batter he faced – Fresno’s Gary Brown, the Giants’ 2010 first-round pick – on three straight fastballs.
He would give up his first hit to the next batters as Kensuke Tanaka ripped a hard groundball between Walker’s legs and into center field on a 2-2 fastball.
But he coolly dispatched of the next two hitters with a pop out and a fly out to end the inning.
Walker showed the ability to be economical. He needed just 11 pitches to make it through the second inning.
In the sixth inning, he gave up a two-out walk followed by a single to Brett Pill, but he calmly got Roger Kieschnick to bounce into a fielder’s choice.
Obviously Walker’s fastball which touched 97 mph and sat right around 93-95 mph drew oohs and ahhs from the fans in attendance. But for the Mariners it was the use and success of his secondary pitches that loomed more important in his development. Walker threw a cut fastball that ranged fro 89-93 mph. It had good late movement. The curveball that Walker struggled to command all spring and early in the season with Double A Jackson was solid. It had a tight spin. Of the 13 curveballs Walker threw, eight were for strikes.
Walker showed solid composure as well. In the third inning with two outs, he issued his first walk. However, he threw three straight fastballs on the outside corner that were called balls by home plate Spencer Flynn. Walker was clearly miffed, but walked around the mound, gathered himself and got the next hitter to fly out end the inning.