With Seattle’s expectations for 2015 through-the-roof to start the season, big things were expected from everyone and everybody was supposed to have their defined roles on this club. Well, the Mariners haven’t necessarily done that this season as they sit in the cellar of the AL West and are looking to miss the playoffs for a 14th consecutive season. There were points when we all thought they would turn it around, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
For Mariners’ pitcher Taijuan Walker, he stumbled out of the gate big time. In his first nine starts, Walker posted a 7.33 ERA with 23 walks and had an opponent batting average of .313 against him in 43 innings pitched. You don’t really need an expert to tell you that that is just really not good at all; plain and simple. There were fairly big expectations for Walker, particularly after the Spring Training he posted, and to start off, he just didn’t have it.
There were debates about whether he should have still been in the Majors at certain points, but then all of a sudden, something changed. One fateful rainy night in May versus San Diego, it all seemed to change. It wasn’t his best start he’s ever had, but something sure shifted with Walker.
It was May 13th, 2015. Seattle vs. San Diego at Safeco Field. The roof was closed because of the cold, rainy Seattle weather, but that didn’t stop Taijuan Walker from matching up against James Shields for the Padres. It was a small crowd of just 14, 547, but they saw a change that people had been eagerly anticipating.
On that Wednesday night in Seattle, Walker turned in his best start of the season, to that point. He lasted six innings giving up just two runs on four hits while striking out six and walking just one. Prior to that start, Walker had been living up to his last name and just couldn’t stop with the walks. His BB/9 up until that start was at 4.55 and that only one of his issues.
Following this start against San Diego was when he really got it going and started a little bit of a roll. In his last six starts, he has posted an ERA of 1.91 with 44 strikeouts and just 3 walks. He obviously found something that was working for him and stuck to it, which has made him a totally different pitcher.
The difference could have been his splitter/change up or whatever you want to call that nasty pitch. In his first nine starts, opponents hit a whopping .447 off of that pitch. Since then, hitters have batted just .152 with a 10% higher whiff rate in his last five starts with that pitch. In addition, he struggled mightily with walks in his first nine starts, but in the past month, Walker has the second best strikeout to walk ratio in the bigs at 12.67, which is only second to the Rays’ Chris Archer.
His turnaround has been quite impressive. Including his start on May 13th, Walker has toed the slab nine times and has made it through six innings seven times, seven innings four times, and even went back to back starts going eight innings. On June 20th vs. Houston, Taijuan struck out a career high 11, as well.
Just before his May 13th start, I wrote another article about Taijuan saying that there should be nothing to worry about with his rough start. A few main points I brought up were: One, adaptation to the Major League level. Two, setting up his pitches to get people out more efficiently. And thirdly, was just becoming more consistent overall.
He has really done a good job with all three of these. Walker seems to have found his groove at the Major League level and the numbers certainly state that. A branch off of that also is consistency. It isn’t just one or two starts that he has been really methodical, it has been a string of good starts that have him back on track to having numbers where we all thought he should and would be.
Being more efficient with pitches has also allowed Walker to pitch further into games and that honestly just comes with maturity and time playing at this level of baseball. We all knew Taijuan had it in him, it was really just ‘when’ he was going to do it, rather than ‘if.’ The command has been there and if it is here to stay, expect similar outings from Walker as the season progresses.
Through his start on June 26th, a win vs. the Angels, he has leveraged his BB/9 to 2.74 and his K/9 has shot up to 8.75. Both of these are career highs as he is in his first full season for the Mariners at the ripe, young age of 22.
While the season as a whole may not be what the Mariners have wanted nor expected, they at least have a young, bright spot in Taijuan Walker who has transformed into what he was projected to be as he came up through the Minor Leagues, which is a top of the line starting pitcher.