SAN FRANCISCO — Here was Taijuan Walker taking another step Monday night toward becoming the dominant pitcher the Seattle Mariners have long envisioned.
The 22-year-old shackled the San Francisco Giants over seven innings in a 5-1 victory that pulled the Mariners out of whatever funk they slipped into over the weekend in Houston.
“Getting ahead first pitch has been a big thing,” Walker said. “Just attacking. Just going right after them. Not trying to do too much. Not trying to pick the corners. Not trying to get strikeouts.”
This makes four straight quality starts by Walker (4-6) at a time when the Mariners are dealing with two injuries in their rotation and seeking to keep their head above water.
“He’s doing a nice job,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s well on his way. He’s certainly not a finished product quite yet, but I like what I see.”
Walker points to a start on May 24 in Toronto as the turning point. He gave up four runs in the fifth inning, in what became an 8-2 loss, but McClendon refused to baby him by going to the bullpen when things got tough.
“I think I’m just feeding off that start,” Walker said. “Me and Zee (catcher Mike Zunino) have been in a really good groove lately. We’re not panicking. We’re just making pitches.”
Walker’s four-game surge began with his next start.
On Monday, he held the Giants the one run and seven hits (VIDEO LINK) before Mark Lowe and Charlie Furbush closed out the victory in this start to a four-game series between that teams: two here and two at Safeco Field.
The Mariners backed Walker with a 12-hit attack that included add-on runs in the eighth and ninth innings and a clean defensive game.
“That was about as clean a game as we’ve played in some time," McClendon said. “It was very nice to see.”
The Mariners broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth.
Giants starter Tim Hudson (4-6) had retired nine in a row when Brad Miller sliced a leadoff single to left. Miller went to second when Zunino pulled a liner through the left side.
Walker struck out on three attempts at a sacrifice bunt that underscored he’s an American League pitcher, but Logan Morrison pulled an RBI single into right for a 2-1 lead. (VIDEO LINK)
Austin Jackson then sent a soft pop into short right. Three Giants surrounded it but none caught it — although second baseman Joe Panik was quick enough to throw to second for a force on Morrison.
Zunino scored though, and the Mariners led 3-1.
The Mariners chased Hudson in the sixth when Kyle Seager led off with a single, and Seth Smith followed with a walk.
Yusmeiro Petit cleaned up the mess by striking out Miller and Zunino before retiring Walker on a hopper to the right of the mound.
Walker had retired 11 in a row before Brandon Crawford pulled a two-out double in the right-field corner in the sixth inning. Matt Duffy slicing drive fell just foul before he grounded out to third.
That finished Walker’s night: 98 pitches (67 for strikes), seven hits, no walks and six strikeouts. He is 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA over his last four starts with three walks and 27 strikeouts in 29 innings.
“I’m not trying to overthrow or do too much,” Walker said. “I was doing that early in the season. We’re just making better pitches. Not trying to throw anything harder or be too cute with anything.”
Seager’s booming one-out homer in the eighth against (VIDEO LINK) Jeremy Affeldt extended the lead to 4-1. Seager crushed a 91-mph fastball on a 2-1 count for his 11th homer of the year.
“Guys like him,” Seager said, “you’re basically looking for one pitch — and hoping.”
Jackson added a two-out RBI single in the ninth against Hunter Strickland after Morrison stole second base.
“That’s it,” Morrison chirped. “We changed roles.”
The Mariners are now 4-3 on an eight-game trip that concludes at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday at AT&T Park. The two teams play Wednesday night and Thursday night at Safeco Field.
It started well. The Mariners jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first inning because of Nelson Cruz’s speed.
Morrison and Jackson opened the game with singles, and Morrison went to third on Robinson Cano’s fly to deep center. Cruz then hit a potential double-play grounder to second but beat the relay. (VIDEO LINK)
“That was a big play (by Cruz),” McClendon said. “A little life in this team. How about that?”