In a game where Jesus Montero successfully steals a base, it wouldn’t be crazy to say the Tacoma Rainiers had a bit of fortune on their side against the Fresno Grizzlies on Sunday.
Taijuan Walker said he wasn’t keeping track, but guess how many strikeouts the Mariners’ top pitching prospect finished with in the Rainiers’ 2-1 victory?
“Lucky 13,” Walker said.
Despite Walker’s loose assessment of his performance, the career-high 13 strikeouts weren’t lucky at all — more like skill.
“Walker just pitched his rear end off, I mean holy mackerel,” Rainiers’ manager Roy Howell said. “After the first inning he just settled down and went after them.”
After yielding two hits and a run in the first inning, Walker hunkered down to retire 20 of his next 24 batters — 17 straight, at one point, before walking a batter in the seventh.
Of his 101 pitches, 71 were strikes. His curveball and fastball were especially dominant.
“I kept everything the same from the second inning on,” Walker said. “Everything was relaxed and I just went out there and pitched and attacked them.”
The lone walk came after Tacoma outfielder James Jones’ RBI single that tied the game at 1. Walker rallied to strikeout the next three batters to finish his seven-inning outing. Right-handed reliever Lucas Luetge, who bounced between the Mariners and Rainiers this weekend, recorded his third save after throwing four strikeouts with no hits in his two innings pitched.
“I knew our bullpen was thin today so I kind of had to step up and go out there and give them seven strong,” said Walker (5-3).
Walker’s previous starts with Tacoma this season had drawn some criticism from Mariners’ manager Lloyd McClendon. In his most recent outing on Aug. 4, Walker yielded eight runs on eight hits with only one strikeout in 21/3 innings in the Rainiers’ 12-5 loss to Albuquerque.
“We don’t look at things as redemption,” Howell said. “If you play 162 games in the big leagues, you can’t be thinking about redemption. You think about consistency, and that’s all (Walker) is trying to do is get that nice feel and be consistent. That’s how he’s going to get back to the big leagues.”
Tacoma had two lucky breaks in the bottom of the seventh — both went Jesus Montero’s way. He reached first on a fielding error by Grizzlies third baseman Chris Dominguez, who let his low shot fly past his glove.
With Xavier Avery up following a single by Ty Kelly, Montero was caught out of position at second but hustled to third and beat Dominguez’s tag for his first stolen base since 2008.
“We had a bunt play on and (Montero) got hung out there in the middle,” Howell said. “Anytime you get hung, especially a guy who doesn’t have great speed, just go ahead and go. Probably not the most beautiful thing in this world but that’s why this is just a strange game.”
With two outs, John Hicks drove in Montero for the go-ahead score with a sharp ground ball to Dominguez, who once again failed to corral the ball.
Michael Saunders, in his fourth rehabilitation start with Tacoma, went 1-for-3 with one walk.
The Tacoma Rainiers will play the final game of their five-game homestand against the Fresno Grizzlies on Monday at 11:35 a.m. PDT. Right-handed pitcher Jordan Pries (8-6, 3.90 ERA) will start for Tacoma against left-handed pitcher Kelvin Marte (1-0, 4.15).