The Mariners had already hinted that it could be coming, and the results of today's early game made it all but a formality.
Announced after the game by the M's in a release, Taijuan Walker will be Friday’s starter in Seattle in the series opener versus the Houston Astros.
When Felix Hernandez was chased after just three-plus innings and eventually saddled with his 20th career loss against the Rangers, his fourth loss in his last five outings, Brandon Maurer relieved and was more or less taken out of consideration for getting the start Friday. With manager Eric Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik already carefully framing their words over the past few days in talking with the beat writers about who Friday's starter would be following Aaron Harang’s DFA, Walker seemed like a real possibility. The fact that his turn in the Rainers' rotation neatly lines up with Harang’s spot made it more likely. And then when Felix forced Seattle to burn Maurer, well, you do the math.
The recently-turned 21-year-old Walker has turned in two straight strong starts for Tacoma after a tougher go of things over the five starts before that. His combined season numbers sit at 9-10 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.2 SO/9. He had a 3.13 FIP in Double-A and sports a 3.62 FIP (and 3.61 ERA) in Triple-A. His last start brought him to 141 1/3 innings on the year and Zduriencik stated over the weekend that they were looking at "around 160" innings for him this season. Putting him in Harang's spot in the rotation starting Friday could provide for six possible starts, but of course Seattle could control that fairly easily with the expanded rosters available to them starting Sunday.
Walker, as we've covered a number of times before, is among the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, with a fastball that can reach the upper-90s, a developing cutter that sits between 90-93 and a change and big curve that both can get swings-and-misses, too. He’s extremely athletic, has a terrific pitcher’s build and the velocity comes very easily. He ranks 5th in all of minor league baseball with 160 combined strikeouts on the season and that is a big weapon for him. The ground ball is also a big weapon for Taijuan as he consistently works down in the zone and gets good sink on his fastball, but he also elevates it very effectively when needed.
Walker has been over 100 pitches in each of his last three starts for Tacoma and has cleared 90 pitches in 18 of his 25 starts on the year, so it is reasonable to think that he could get in that area in his big league starts, too, depending on how much Seattle wants to work him. Interestingly, the right-hander has been most dominant in the PCL against left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .161/.304/.247 slash with 35 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances (31.3% K-rate), but making sure he is throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes and keeping left-handers honest will be a big key for him at the games’ highest level.
Stick with SeattleClubhouse for a complete breakdown of his debut performance. And make sure you check back in to find out the scoop on Walker and the rest of the likely call-ups coming with the roster expansions in September.
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