Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre felt pride and gratification in watching Taijuan Walker throw his shutout on Tuesday night vs. the Angels. It was a testament to the changes and the work the duo had put in over the past 10 days.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mel Stottlemyre Jr.’s voice cracked a little with emotion as the pride that had filled his body was starting to come out in his words. It was less than an hour after Taijuan Walker had thrown the first shutout of his career on Tuesday night and the Mariners’ pitching coach still could feel the emotional charge of his pupil’s accomplishment pulsing through him.
“I was so happy and so proud of him,” he said. “I was just so proud of how he was doing it.”
It was the gratifying culmination of 10 days worth of work between the teacher and the student. After suffering through the worst and shortest outing of his career on Sept. 3 against the Angels, giving up six runs on six hits, including three straight homers and getting booed by Mariners fans as he left the game, Walker knew something had to change. Stottlemyre had been trying to tweak Walker’s mechanics for much of the season, but they weren’t always completely received.
“This was something that when I laid my eyes on him over the course of the winter, just looking at how he worked, that I envisioned him getting to in the end,” Stottlemyre said. “But with the nice run that he had last year and some spots here and there where he was throwing the ball good this year, it was hard. We started those conversations about some of those changes that needed to take place about six weeks into the season.”
Most Read Sports Stories
- Michigan defensive line twins Armon, Jayvon Parker announce dual commitments to UW Huskies
- Seahawks position review: Russell Wilson is still the Seahawks quarterback for now. But who will be behind him?
- Born with a club foot, Edmonds ice dancer Jean-Luc Baker defied the odds and is ready for his first Olympics
- Here's why Baseball Hall of Fame voters got it right with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
- Gonzaga legend and Basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton draws ire for anti-vaccine comments
But it wasn’t till Walker realized his old way was no longer working that he finally decided to embrace an overhaul. He went to Stottlemyre later that night and asked for help.
“At that point, he decided it was time to make some adjustments and changes,” Stottlemyre said.
The following day the two were out early before the game, playing catch and working on the changes that features a different leg kick and more hip turn to help him use his legs more and drive down the slope of the mound. It’s been a daily routine since then. They’ve spent hours together going over the changes. They were inseparable on the field, in the weight room and in front the video monitors.
“These are drastic,” Stottlemyre said. “These are not easy. It’s the tail end of the season on a club that’s possibly in a pennant run and to go out and try to recreate a delivery is not easy to do. It’s a testament to the work that he did – the dry work, the video work, watching other guys do it. He’s been relentless with the work and in our bullpens just trying to put it all together. I’m so proud of him.”
Walker took the changes into his start five days later against Texas. He pitched five innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts. It was an improvement. But Walker looked and felt mechanical trying to force the changes.
“He understood that going into that last outing that there were going to be some bumps,” Stottlemyre said. “The bumps were trying to feel out every phase of your delivery.”
The bumps were gone by Tuesday night. The mechanics seemed natural while his stuff and velocity benefitted.
“We talked about trying to build some rhythm and tempo through that delivery,” Stottlemyre said. “He put it all together tonight. I saw some signs in this last bullpen of actually him feeling all the things that we were trying to get through to him – those changes.”
In the seventh inning of the start, Walker started to revert a little to his old mechanics, losing some of the hip turn and seeing his pitches lose their crispness.
“It was the first time that I actually had any conversation with him throughout the course of the night and it was just reminding him to make that turn,” Stottlemyre said. “Any time you make changes like that, especially this time of the year, there’s a risk, but the reward is what we all saw tonight. He got a handle on it and it translated into his pitches and his execution of stuff. His stuff was better. He had a better breaking ball, it had tighter spin on it. It had more bottom to his split. His fastball command was better.”
The key will be for Walker to continue with these changes. The shutout offered some reassurance for Stottlemyre’s reasoning for them. Still, Walker won’t always have that kind of success. But they should help him to find a level of consistency that was missing for much of the season. He’s far from a finished product and as he gains confidence with these changes, Stottlemyre will add more small tweaks to continue to build him into the pitcher that matches his potential.
“He’s a young kid,” Stottlemyre said. “He has very little pitching experience. He’s a hell of an athlete and athletes make adjustments and changes easier than the ones that aren’t as athletic. It’s a constant battle making changes. He’s doing it. Give all the credit to him.”
A Minor trade
The Mariners made a minor trade on Wednesday afternoon, sending right-handed pitcher Joe Wieland to the Atlanta Braves for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Baseball sources said the Mariners will likely take the money for Wieland.
Wieland, 26, made one start with the Mariners this season, giving up six earned runs in five innings pitched in a loss against the A’s on Oakland 12. He spent most of the season with Class AAA Tacoma, making 24 starts and two relief appearances, posting a 14-6 record with a 5.43 ERA. He struck out 118 batters and walked 39 in 124 1/3 innings pitched.
After making the start, Wieland was placed on waivers and was not claimed, allowing the Mariners to outright him to Class AAA Tacoma and remove him from the 40-man roster on Aug. 20.
*** Adam Lind took some soft-toss swings in the cage on Wednesday afternoon to test his sprained right finger. The pain was still there. And it looks like he will be unavailable for the time being.
“It’s still really sore,” Servais said. “It’s the vibration from the ball (hitting the bat) and it was only get flipped in there. It’s going to be a few days yet. It’s when you don’t hit a ball just right, when you get it off the end or something like that. It’s going to take a while. It’s still got a bunch of swelling in there.
*** Some good news for the Mariners’ first-round draft pick from this season, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Batter vs. starting pitcher matchups
Mariners numbers vs. Jhoulys Chacin
Angels numbers vs. Hisashi Iwakuma
American League Wild Card Standings
On this day in Mariners’ history
- 1984 – Alvin Davis and Mark Langston paced the Mariners to a 2-1 victory over Kansas City. Davis homered with one out in the 9th inning for the game winner, while Langston won his 6th straight decision, a complete-game five-hitter with nine strikeouts.
- 1987 – Mickey Brantley’s 3 HR, 7 RBI performance against Cleveland were top ‘87 marks, but the Mariners were defeated by the Tribe, 11-8.
- 1990 – Ken Griffey Sr. belts a 0-2 pitch to centerfield for a home run and Ken Griffey Jr. follows with a 3-0 blast, also to CF, as the Griffey’s record the only father/son back-to-back home runs in Major League history at California.
- 2011 – Luis Rodriguez hit a walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning in a 2-1 win over the Yankees. Rodriguez finished 3-for-5 with 2 doubles and hit his 2nd homer of the season. Steve Delabar, who was a substitute teacher in Kentucky in March, earned his first Major League win with a scoreless top of the 12th inning.
- 2015 – Seattle’s offense erupted for 10 runs to take the first game of a series against the Angels 10-1…Taijuan Walker earned the win, allowing 1 run over 7.0 IP, recording his 6th start of the season of 7.0+ IP and 1 or fewer runs allowed…Seth Smith recorded his 30th double of the season, his 3rd career 30-double campaign…Smith drove in 3 runs in the game, hitting a 2-run home run in the 2nd and adding an RBI double later in the contest.