Young Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker showed growing poise and consistency in pitching the M’s to a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Another start, another example of Taijuan Walker’s growing poise and consistency at the big-league level.
Over the course of his last six starts, there have been plenty of examples to highlight how much Walker has changed as a pitcher in the span of two months.
In Friday night’s 3-1 win over the Angels, that moment came in the bottom of the sixth with the Mariners clinging to a one-run lead.
Mariners @ LA Angels, 4:15 p.m., ROOT Sports
Walker found himself in some trouble with runners on second and third with one out, including the ultra-fast Mike Trout on second, representing the tying run.
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In the early stages of the season and in the same situation, the Angels would have probably scored a run off Walker. And that one run might have led to two or three more in the inning, putting the game out of reach.
But the current version of Walker wasn’t going to let that happen.
He extinguished the rally with poise, striking out David Freese on an elevated 97 mph fastball and getting Matt Joyce to fly out to end the inning.
Threat averted, the 22-year-old Walker let out a yell and slammed his hand into his glove in celebration as he walked to the dugout.
“The biggest pitch of the game was the elevated fastball to Freese,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.
“He executed that to perfection. He preceded it with a really good changeup and came back with that fastball.”
It’s a pitch that Walker has used frequently with success.
“It’s huge,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “Pitching at the top of the strike zone with his plus velocity, it’s impossible for them to get on top of that pitch.”
Walker went on to work a smooth 1-2-3 seventh inning, ending his night. He allowed one run on seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts to improve to 6-6 and lower his ERA to 4.64.
Over his last six starts, he’s posted a 1.91 earned-run average with 44 strikeouts and just three walks. On May 25, he was 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA.
“He was fantastic,” McClendon said. “The growth that this young man has shown in the last five to six weeks has just been tremendous. Tonight, he never panicked.”
Walker feels the difference, too.
“I feel like I’m more confident and just calm, especially when I get in a big situation,” he said.
“I’m trusting Z (Zunino) back there. He’s calling the right pitch every time, and I’m just executing the pitches.”
The Mariners’ bullpen made the lead stand up. Carson Smith worked out of a self-made jam in the eighth inning — giving up a single to Trout and walking Albert Pujols with one out — by getting an inning-ending double play.
And in the ninth, Fernando Rodney — yes, Fernando Rodney — picked up his 15th save.
Walker’s only run allowed came off the bat of the best player in baseball in the first inning.
Walker threw a 1-1 fastball in the place that Trout loves to hit them most — low in the strike zone. The muscular and neck-less All-Star hammered the ball into the upper reaches of the stands in deep right-center for a solo home run to make it 1-0.
Walker got some help from his defense, particularly the strong right arm of Cano in the fourth inning.
Erick Aybar laced a ball into the right-center gap. Mark Trumbo tracked it down and made a solid first throw to Cano, who wheeled and fired a perfect throw to Kyle Seager at third, who made the tag to get Aybar.