HOUSTON — Taijuan Walker, the Mariners’ prized pitching prospect, was far from dominating in his first start of the season.
His command wasn’t pinpoint, and Houston batters took advantage with homers in the first two innings.
But unlike pitchers who have occupied that spot in the Seattle rotation this season, he didn’t implode. Instead, he labored through a six-inning grind with runners reaching base every inning and held on as his teammates answered with four homers of their own in the 10-4 victory Monday.
“The composure he did it with tonight with was the biggest thing,” catcher Mike Zunino said of Walker. “You see him and he was pretty much unfazed up there.”
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Seattle banged out 11 hits and the four homers accounted for their first eight runs.
The most interesting of the dingers was the last, which put the game out of reach. Robinson Cano blasted his second homer in as many games, giving him six on the season. Cano’s lack of homers had been a concern for some people outside of the Mariners’ organization. Both he and manager Lloyd McClendon have maintained the homers will come. But don’t label it as a sign of future homers.
“I didn’t need a sign,” McClendon said. “I see it every day. He’s fine and he’s been swinging the bat extremely well. I think what happens, and I’m not trying to chastise anybody in the media, but sometimes your expectations and what you think he ought to be doing are not mine. It’s not how I define success. Robbie is just fine. Robbie Cano is being Robbie Cano.”
Cano had little interest in discussing his exploits.
“This game is not about one guy,” he said. “This game is about the whole team and you want to continue because you’re not going to get the same guy every night getting hits. So to win games and be able to stay in the race or get up there and try to go to the playoffs, it’s going to be a different guy every single night.”
So far it’s working, because with the victory the Mariners improve to 45-38. It’s the first time they’ve been seven games over .500 since the 2009 season.
In the first few innings, Walker fell behind batters early in the count and was forced to come in with fastballs for strikes. Astros hitters were waiting.
In the first with a runner on first, Walker left a 2-0 fastball up in the zone to George Springer. The result will be replayed for many years to come. Springer crushed the 94 mph pitch toward left field. The ball didn’t stop its rocketing trajectory until it bounced off the glass windows well above and beyond the train tracks that sit about 80 feet above and 50 feet behind the left-field wall.
The Astros’ media-relations staff estimated the ball traveled 445 feet, but that’s only because its path was obstructed. It was the longest home run ever hit to left in Minute Maid Park.
“I’m not swearing at myself, but I’m talking to myself, ‘C’mon Taijuan, keep the ball down and get ahead in the count,’ ’’ Walker said.
His catcher helped erase the deficit. Zunino answered with two-run homer of his own in the top of the second. The towering pop fly kept carrying and carrying before coming down just over the wall. It traveled about 100 less feet than Springer’s blast, but counted for the same number of runs.
Again, falling behind in the count came back to bite Walker in the bottom of the second. He left a 2-0 fastball up to Marwin Gonzales, who yanked it down the right-field line to give the Astros a 3-2 lead.
“I made some pretty good pitches, but I just got behind in counts,” Walker said. “Today my fastball command wasn’t there, so I relied on my changeup. That got me through it.”
Seattle took the lead for good in the fourth. Michael Saunders crushed a two-run homer into the upper deck in right field to make it 4-3. Two batters later, Brad Miller jumped on a hanging slider and pulled a low line drive over the wall in right field to make it 5-3.
Given a lead, Walker (1-0) made it stand. He needed 94 pitches to get through six innings, giving up the three earned runs on five hits with six strikeouts.
“I thought he threw pretty darn good,” McClendon said. “Command was a little shaky to start with but I thought he settled down and threw some decent breaking balls, some decent change-ups. He did OK.”
James Jones had a career high four hits to go with three stolen bases.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.