After the Mariners sent out a press release,that Taijuan Walker is going to start on Friday night vs. the Astros , one of my more "unique" Twitter followers demanded my opinion on the subject. It's a function of the sports world we live in. Something happens and you are immediately expected to like it, loathe it, praise it or disparage it. I call Bayless-ing for obvious reasons. And it's stupid.
I don't have a distinct opinion on the subject. And I don't know how most people can based on a few things ...
1. They haven't seen Walker pitch every game since being called up to Triple A.
2. They aren't privy to the information that the Mariners have.
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I've seen Taijuan Walker pitch three times this season. Each time, I sat down with the scouts, monitored his velocity, watched for his command and looked closely at his secondary pitches - the key to his success. There were a few things you notice. The cut fastball, which he just added this year after a year spent learning it, still doesn't have consistent break from game to game, even inning to inning. Sometimes it's explosive, other times it's just another pitch. It's a big pitch for him and when it's right, he is much tougher. Obviously, command and consistency with that pitch aren't going to be automatic.
His curveball has a ton of break, but he often throws it the same way every time - starting it at the front of shoulder of a right-handed hitter and dropping it into the strikezone and throwing it that same to lefties for a back-door strike. What he didn't show was the ability to bury the curveball in the dirt to get hitters to chase. The variance of the location of the curveball is important - change eye levels and pitch plane. There are also times where the arm slows down as he tries to place the curveball for a strike. This is all really nitpicky stuff, but stuff that big league advanced scouts pick up quickly.
His change-up got better each game I watched and it was effective against lefties. He throws it hard like Felix Hernandez and does get some of that similar downward movement. But it's a pitch that he used infrequently.
But again, these were three starts early in his time in Tacoma. I didn't see him struggle and how he reacted to it. I didn't see him pitch on a night where his command wasn't completely there and what adjustments he made. I didn't see how he handled himself in between starts, what his work ethic was like. I interviewed him several times, he seemed mature and confident, but I can't really gauge that from them. I saw three starts. So it's difficult for me to sit and say, well he's ready or he isn't ready to be called up this season. And I don't know how some people, who might have seen one start or none at all, can sit and say there know for certain whether it's a right or wrong decision.
But the Mariners have had people at every start. They have reports. They have all the extra information that none of us do. So that's why they made the decision.
There is some concern that if Walker gets called up and gets knocked around it could somehow damage him mentally. I don't really see that. He does have a lot of self-confidence, which is due in large part to his success as a basketball player. He doesn't seem to be afraid of the moment.
Of course, you can sit there and say that the organization is flailing, having lost six straight, and with football season approaching, making a move like calling up Walker is just to generate interest. It's tough to argue with that.
But it's also tough to argue that Walker hasn't earned this shot. He's done well at Triple A and the Mariners have an opening. I assume part of the thinking is that these starts are a way to prepare him for next season. The Mariners believe he will be a part of their starting rotation coming out of spring. So they want to show him what it's like to pitch in the big leagues and everything that comes with it before the offseason. After seeing what happened to Brandon Maurer to start this season, the Mariners are giving Walker a soft landing of sorts instead of his first start coming in the first week of next season.
I understand this thinking. I saw how overwhelmed Maurer was early on. He just wasn't mentally prepared for it. Would it have gone different if he knew a little more of what to expect? I don't know. But it couldn't have hurt.
My only concern would be the Mariners pushing that innings limit of Walker. I would only allow him to make about two starts and then shut him down, no matter how well they went. The limits are set for a reason and it would be counterproductive to pitch him beyond that.
My guess is they will start Walker two or three times and then allow James Paxton to make two starts to also show him the big leagues.
I have no opinion whether this is a good or bad decision. Mostly because we haven't seen him pitch yet. I can see why people would like the move and I understand the reasons people dislike it. But instead of ranting about it, I plant to just watch and see what happens. No Baylessing for me.
As for Michael Morse, he was claimed off of revocable waivers by the Baltimore Orioles today. It sounds like the Mariners will trade him to Baltimore. The return won't be great. But the Mariners and Morse are ready to part ways. If the trade doesn't materialize, they just release him. Morse never became the power hitter that they expected, mostly because of his injury issues. But it's clear, he isn't a part of their plans going forward. And it would help clear up the logjam of outfielders the Mariners have in place.
While he wouldn't say it specifically, it's a good bet this comment from Eric Wedge yesterday was about Morse:
"I think there have been some disappointments within the veterans in regard to that this year. I don’t mind saying it. It’s tough to find leadership with people. Hell, everybody wants to be liked and everybody is afraid of confrontation. Show me a leader that wants both of those things and I’ll show you a bad leader.”