Walker strikes out career-best 11 in first complete game, allowing just a homer by Miguel Sano, and Seattle snaps a four-game losing streak.
MINNEAPOLIS — Manager Lloyd McClendon has said it after bad starts and brilliant ones alike. It’s not so much a scolding but a reminder — don’t place too much emphasis on the most recent start for Taijuan Walker.
At 22 and in his first full season in the big leagues, Walker is far from a finished product. And because of that, he could have a forgettable outing one game and pitch brilliantly the next. And this season, Walker has had extended stretches of both.
Perhaps Friday night’s dominance of the Minnesota Twins will provide the spark to another run of pitching excellence for the young right-hander.
Walker delivered the best outing of his young career, pitching all nine innings and allowing just one run on one hit as the Mariners cruised to a 6-1 win at Target Field.
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“I would probably say that’s his best outing to date,” McClendon said. “I thought he had everything working. His tempo was outstanding and obviously he had all four pitches and was commanding all four pitches. And when you are a power guy and can throw any of those four pitches when you want to, it’s going to be a long night for hitters.”
Did Walker think it was his best?
“It probably is my best outing,” he said. “But I just have to move on now and get ready for the next one.”
Besides his first complete game, Walker also tied a career high with 11 strikeouts. He was ruthlessly efficient, walking one batter and needing just 101 pitches — 77 of which were strikes — to get through the game.
“I felt good after the first inning and I just kept attacking and kept attacking,” he said.
The Mariners have had just three pitchers who have thrown complete games while allowing one hit or less and striking out 10 or more batters: Randy Johnson, who did it three times, Felix Hernandez in his perfect game and Walker against the Twins.
“Days like today are special,” McClendon said. “This guy has got a great repertoire and when it’s on, it’s on.”
Walker is now 8-7 after starting 2-6 in his first 11 starts.
“It’s coming,” McClendon said. “You can see what this man is going to become. He’s going to be special.”
With a new curveball grip and rejuvenated confidence in the pitch, more success seems apparent.
“It’s been big,” he said. “I can throw it for first-pitch strikes. I feel a lot of teams are sitting first-pitch fastball and I can dump it in there and get ahead 0-1.”
Walker’s lone hit was a solo home run to Miguel Sano in the fourth inning. The Twins’ rookie third baseman took advantage of a changeup up in the zone.
“I left it down the middle and he’s a big boy,” Walker said.
The Mariners provided plenty of run support early and a little icing at the end.
Soft-tossing left-hander Tommy Milone was an ideal situation for the Mariners’ lineup full of slugging right-handers, particularly Mark Trumbo and recently called up first baseman Jesus Montero.
Trumbo had leadoff singles off Milone in the second and fourth innings, both leading to runs. In the second inning, Trumbo scored on Brad Miller’s sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.
With runners on first and second and no outs in the fourth inning, Montero bounced a ground ball down the third-base line for an RBI double, scoring Trumbo.
In the sixth inning, Montero sat on a 2-1 fastball and launched it into the bullpen in deep left center for his first homer of the season to make it 4-1.
“I didn’t think I hit it that good,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ I saw the outfielder going back and then, ‘Thank you.’ ”
Nelson Cruz added to the lead in the ninth inning, belting his 27th homer. The opposite field two-run shot was his fourth hit of the game.