Taijuan Walker knows what he has to show before the Mariners deem the 20-year-old wunderkind ready for the major leagues: better command...
PEORIA, Ariz. — Taijuan Walker knows what he has to show before the Mariners deem the 20-year-old wunderkind ready for the major leagues: better command and a more consistent curveball.
He spent the winter working on a new curve, and he unveiled it Tuesday in his first live batting-practice session of the spring.
Walker said he’s changed to what is called a “spike curve.”
It involves digging the nail on his middle finger into the seam of the baseball. It is supposed to lead to a sharp late break, somewhat akin to a knuckle curve.
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“Last year, during the season, I kind of got away from my curveball,” Walker said. “I wanted to make sure I came into camp with my curveball ready. I wanted to throw a lot just to make sure I had it. The first time throwing against hitters, the spike curve, I need to locate it better. I felt it was sharper than the other curves I’ve thrown in the past. I have to keep throwing it and get comfortable.”
It was not a particularly comfortable at-bat for the five players who faced him: Michael Morse, Kyle Seager, Nick Franklin, Casper Wells and Vinnie Catricala.
Seager, who had just about the only hard-hit ball, a grounder into right field, said of Walker, “Very easy, very fluid, very effortless delivering — the ball gets on you. He’s got really good stuff.”
Walker said he threw about 80 to 90 percent of full speed — except when his command left him a couple of times.
“I got a little frustrated with myself so I kind of bumped it up,” he said. “I felt I wasn’t locating very well with my pitches. You always want to locate, especially your fastball.”
Manager Eric Wedge said he doesn’t try to read too much into the first outing against live pitching.
“He’s stronger,” he observed. “He looks good. The first time out with hitters, you kind of keep your distance early on, but games are coming quick. It’s good to see him. He looks like he’s throwing good.”
What are the Mariners looking for in Walker this season?
“Overall command,” Wedge said. “Obviously, he has all the stuff. It’s just a matter of gaining more experience, getting more innings under his belt, and working ahead.”
Walker checked in at No. 18 in Baseball America’s ranking of the Top 100 prospects in baseball, released Tuesday. Catcher Mike Zunino was at the head of five Mariners in the top 100, ranking 17th. Pitcher Danny Hultzen came in at 29, shortstop Franklin at 79 and James Paxton at 87.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik expects the Mike Carp situation will be resolved soon. Carp was designated for assignment last week, and multiple teams have expressed interest. The Mariners have until Thursday to get something done, but Zduriencik said Tuesday morning that “probably in the next 24 hours something will be accomplished.”
Zduriencik added, “We’ve got some dialogue going with different clubs. There’s definitely interest.”
• A rainstorm is expected Wednesday that could play havoc with the Mariners’ plans. Felix Hernandez is scheduled to throw his first bullpen, while Jeremy Bonderman and Jon Garland are slated for live batting practice.
• Joe Torre, now a top official in the commissioner’s office as well as manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, was a visitor in Mariners camp. Wedge was eager to talk to Torre. The two have a good relationship dating to Torre’s days managing the Yankees.