Taijuan Walker Lengthens His Leash


Like all teams, the Seattle Mariners have struggled through some surprisingly poor performances in the earlygoing. Robinson Cano is still hitting like Willie Bloomquist, and Willie Bloomquist is still hitting like Dustin Ackley, who is hitting like, I don’t know, me. The performance that has been perhaps most jarring so far has been that of Taijuan Walker, who’s struggles have had us calling for his demotion as recently as six days ago.

Except that’s not going to happen. It was always a long shot, but now it’s a certainty that Walker will be a major leaguer for a while yet. I guess maybe that’s not the most accurate way to put it, since James Paxton‘s injury and subsequent DL trip all but assured that Walker would be needed in the bigs for another couple weeks. But this isn’t about injury. This is about Friday night, and it’s Friday night that should buy Walker much more than fifteen more days at the game’s highest level.

Against the Cleveland Indians and their quietly top-flight offense, Walker delivered the best start of his career. He tied career highs with eight strikeouts and eight innings pitched. He only allowed two hits, but perhaps more impressively didn’t allow a single walk. Not even a single three-ball count, in fact. Oh, and one of the two hits was the first batter of the game. It was better than the outing we’ve been waiting for. It was a revelation and then some.

People have gone out of their way to make excuses for Walker since his struggles began, and now we’ve been reminded why that is. Leaning on a 97mph heater, Walker cruised through this one like a sheer force of nature. It was one of the better pitching performances by anyone this year, and importantly showed Walker dominating in the areas of the game where he’s so far struggled the worst.

Nothing is more impressive than the strikes, of course. Walker’s been giving away far too many free bases, and to see him not just limit but eliminate the walk is tantalizing. If he could do it yesterday he could do it again, right? Proof of concept and all that. The extent to which he didn’t throw balls last night is just terrific. You rarely get to see a guy that locked in, and especially not that guy in particular.

Paxton’s injury might yet open the door for a Mike Montgomery start (or maybe a bullpen day or two with Tom Wilhelmsen at the front), but what is does first and foremost is make Walker one of the very most important Mariners. The team has been hot for three weeks now, and a big homestand would catipult them over .500 and towards the top of the division. Effective Taijuan Walker goes a long way towards that goal.

If this start is any indication of what the rest of Walker’s season holds, then the M’s are indeed a good team on the rise. If it’s an outlier, then hey, it happened. He could still bomb out and be seen as a lesser option that AAA fodder in a week or two. But this start happened. And this start was incredible.

Taijuan Walker is 22 years old. He’s about as exciting as a pitching prospect can get, which is to say that he’s also one of the most frustrating kinds of baseball players that exist. When he struggles, we hate it. It drives us mad. But when he’s on we forget our troubles and everything is right in the world. Last night everything was right in the world. Maybe it’ll stay that way this time.

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