Walker strikes out five and allows one unearned run in seven strong innings. Seattle starts its 10-game trip with a 3-1 victory.
ARLINGTON, Texas — There were plenty of pitches that Taijuan Walker executed with great precision in the Mariners’ 3-1 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night.
Of the 62 strikes he threw in seven innings, some were good, some were bad, some were missed, some were lucky not to be hit harder and others were just where he wanted them.
The first pitch to Robinson Chirinos in the bottom of the seventh was one that fell into the final category.
Mariners @ Rangers.
5:05 p.m., ROOT Sports
Walker had just given up a one-out single to Elvis Andrus and a two-out single to Rougned Odor and his solid start was on the verge of unraveling with runners on the corners and a two-run lead looking in danger.
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It brought manager Lloyd McClendon out of the dugout for a quick and to-the-point pep talk.
“He still had a good stuff,” McClendon said. “I just told him this is your last hitter and give me everything you’ve got. And he did.”
Catcher Mike Zunino set up on the inside corner and Walker put it exactly where he wanted, threading a 95-mph fastball on the inside corner.
“I know he’s swinging and I’m hoping to jam up and hopefully get a ball on the ground to someone or a pop fly like that,” Walker said.
The fastball overwhelmed a first-pitch-swinging Chirinos, who looped an inconsequential fly ball to center field for an easy out — inning over, threat averted, ballgame over.
OK, well, the game wasn’t quite over.
Charlie Furbush needed to strike out Prince Fielder with a runner on second and Carson Smith got Adrian Beltre to ground out weakly to the mound to close out the eighth inning.
And of course, the white-knuckle ride that is Fernando Rodney in the ninth had to have some modicum of turbulence. Rodney gave up a one-out single and then put the tying run on base with a two-out walk. But he got Chirinos to fly out to Austin Jackson in center for his fifth save of the season.
But the night belonged to Walker, who became the first Mariners’ pitcher not named Felix Hernandez or J.A. Happ to give Seattle a start of at least seven innings pitched.
The young right-hander looked strong in those seven innings, giving up six hits, an unearned run with a walk and five strikeouts.
“He commanded the zone with his fastball and his breaking stuff,” McClendon said. “I’d like to see a few more changes, but when you command the zone and throw 95 to 97, that’s pretty good.”
But Walker believes it can be better.
“I feel like I didn’t have my best fastball today,” he said. “But I felt like my fastball location was good and I was getting a lot of ground balls.”
“Well, I guess when you normally throw 97-98 mph at times, then 93-95 is not your best,” Zunino said with a chuckle. “But I will take 93-95 with location any day. When he needed to make a pitch tonight, he did it.”
Aided by the Rangers’ inability to turn two relatively simple double plays and a rare hit with a runner in scoring position, Seattle grabbed a 2-0 lead in the rain-delayed first inning.
Yovani Gallardo, who seemed to be feeling the effect of the game starting 55 minutes later than scheduled, walked Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith to start the game. It looked as if he would get two quick outs on Robinson Cano’s ground ball to second. But Odor couldn’t get the ball out of his glove quickly for the lead out. It gave shortstop Andrus no chance after the force out at second, leaving runners on the corners.
A day after going hitless with runners in scoring position, the Mariners broke the 0-for-13 streak of hitless futility. Nelson Cruz pushed his league-leading RBI total to 21 by driving in Ruggiano from third with a sharp single through the right side.
The Rangers erred again on the next batter when Andrus couldn’t complete a double play on a ground ball to first base. Andrus’ throw was wide of first allowing Cano to sprint home to make it 2-0.
Texas answered with an unearned run in the fourth inning on a two-out throwing error from Brad Miller on a slow, high-bouncing ball that forced to him to hurry the throw and somehow forget about the force play at second base.
Seattle tacked on a big insurance run in the top of the fifth. Ruggiano, batting in the leadoff spot for the first time this season, worked a two-out walk, stole second and later scored on Smith’s single up the middle.
“Honestly, I haven’t been seeing the ball as well as I’d like to,” Ruggiano said. “I’ve been doing some things to adjust to right-handers and I think today I was able to get two eyes on the ball and slow the ball down a little bit and get a pretty good look at the ball. I felt pretty comfortable today for having not played in a while.”