Taijuan Walker proved he’s come a long way from just under a month ago when foot pain forced the Mariners to scratch him while he was warming up for a start.
In the last stop of his recovery en route to a return to Seattle, Walker pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and two earned runs in a rehab start as the Tacoma Rainiers defeated the Albuquerque Isotopes, 8-3, on Monday night at Cheney Stadium.
Did he play completely pain-free this time around?
“Yeah, definitely,” Walker said. “I felt like anyone who was watching could tell the difference. ... I thought my (velocity) was pretty good, My stuff was pretty sharp, but just kind of got behind getting back into facing hitters and stuff.”
It was his first outing since July 5.
DJ Peterson knocked a three-run home run in the first inning to put the Rainiers up 3-0. In the fourth, Stefen Romero added a two-run homer that put Tacoma up 5-0 in the third inning. Peterson finished 2 for 4 with four RBIs and Romero was 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
After going on the disabled list July 6 with tendinitis in the arch of his right foot, the plan was for Walker to throw somewhere between 65 to 75 pitches for Tacoma. He threw 69 pitches, 41 of them for strikes, and struck out one plus allowed two walks and a home run.
“I think I got off the mound a couple times, kind of broke toward first and everything felt fine doing that,” Walker said. “I felt like it was a pretty good outing. It’s been a month since I pitched a game.”
Walker said he may start with the Mariners as soon as Saturday, but he will likely find out Tuesday.
“We’ll just see how (the foot) feels tomorrow,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll feel good. It felt really good tonight. (I’ll) just talk to the manager and the pitch coach and see where we’re at.”
Walker made quick work of the first inning, throwing 11 pitches, nine of them for strikes.
His first pitch of the night was a clocked 95-mph fastball. He followed that up with a ground out then a fly out. He capped the top of the first inning by striking out Albuquerque’s Stephen Cardullo.
Compared to the first inning, the next second inning lasted substantially longer.
Walker’s first three batters got on base after he allowed a single, double and a walk. He got Alex Castellanos to fly out, then after a a force out at second, conceding a run, Walker got Joey Wong to groundout to first. Tacoma corralled the second and third outs and Walker escaped the inning with just one earned run.
In the top of the third inning, Walker quickly got three outs on only six pitches.
Despite giving up just three hits all game, Walker allowed a solo home run by Isotopes first baseman Ben Paulsen in the fourth inning.
Walker has slowly tested his progression this past week. He threw 45 pitches in a simulated game on Wednesday and pitched a bullpen session at Wrigley Field with the Mariners on Friday in Chicago.
Walker played for the Rainiers in 2013 and 2014 and his last start against Albuquerque was in 2014.
“It’s fun, different, but it’s fun coming down and hanging out with some friends,” Walker said. “These guys are out here having fun.”
Tacoma and Albuquerque play at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday. Right-hander Zach Lee (0-3, 6.11) goes against Isotopes righty Eddie Butler (4-2, 6.39).