Taijuan Walker makes his big league debut tonight with the Houston Astros. But he won't be alone. Outfielder Abraham Almonte, who was called up today, is in the line-up as well, starting in right field and batting eighth.
Almonte caught a 6 a.m. flight out of Sea-Tac this morning to get to Houston. He was removed in the seventh inning of yesterday's game in Tacoma. After the game, he was told my Tacoma manager John Stearns that he was going to the big leagues. The emotional Stearns was, well, emotional when telling Almonte. He stopped short of tears.
"Almost," Almonte said. "We’ve got a good relationship and he’s a good guy. He came to me and gave me a hug and said, ‘Congrats, you’re going to the big leagues.”
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When Almonte was traded to Seattle from the Yankees in the offseason, he looked at it as an opportunity.
"I feel like I have more chance here to make the big leagues, like right now," he said. "Here I am.”
So what's he going to do now that he's here?
“I’m a fast runner, I can play defense and swing the bat once in a while," he said. "“Just do what I do. I’m still the same person. I just need to be the same guy."
That guy uses his speed to make things happen. He's a hitter who sprays the ball over the park. He's not a great defensive outfielder with his speed. It's getting better. He does have a strong throwing arm, which GM Jack Zdruriencik rates as one of the best in the organization.
Several of the current Mariners like Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Taijuan Walker played with Almonte this season.
"He’s fast, he’s got life in his bat, works the count, fights," Franklin said. "That’s just the things I remember. He likes to bunt. I just remember him being really fast. You’ll see it tonight. He’s probably going to run as fast as he’s ever run. I remember my first call up, you run pretty fast. But he’s pretty fast as it is. He might beat out a groundball tonight, for sure. People that don’t know him, he’s going to beat out a ground ball for sure, so that’s something to look forward to.”
Miller also mentioned Almonte's speed, but was more impressed with his on-field demeanor.
"He plays very hard," Miller said. "It's why you like playing with him because he plays so hard."
Age is just a number
It's interesting to note that Walker, age 21, will be pitching to Henry Blanco, age 42.
Blanco turned 42 yesterday and his teammates bought him a birthday cake with lots of candles. He's excited to catch the young prospect.
"It’s going to be fun," he said pregame. "We haven’t sat down and talked to him yet. But pretty sure we’ll go over the scouting report and do the best we can."
What advice will he give him in that meeting?
"Just focus on the hitter," he said. "I know there’s going to be some butterflies in his stomach. But I’m sure they’ll get out of there after the first hitter. Just work the strike zone and hopefully we’ll get him some runs so he can relax a little bit."
After decades in the big leagues, Blanco has more than his share of pitchers making their big league debuts.
"Quite a few," he said. "You have some good outings and some bad outings. It’s all part of the game. It’s his first outing in the big leagues. We are expecting him to go out there and have fun and do the best he can tonight.
You may see him go to the mound to talk to Walker more than he would with a normal pitcher. It's just a way to keep Walker calm.
" It all depends on the situation," he said. "I will probably go out there a few times. Hopefully I don’t have to go out at all. But it’s part of our job and we’ll see how he goes through the game."
Morales news ...
And in the category of "Yeah, that doesn't surprise me," Ken Rosenthal has this report that extension talks between the Mariners and Kendrys M0rales' agent Scott Boras never really got anywhere.
1. Boras clients rarely if ever sign an extension and that's usually if they have some attachment to the organization. Morales has no such attachments.
2. This could likely be Morales' best chance to get a long-term big deal in the future. And with the power market down, he'd be one of the most attractive candidates.
The stuff about hitting away from Safeco Field is interesting if you look at his splits this season.
But Boras could sell umbrellas to people in Phoenix, so I wouldn't put it past him.