Taijuan Walker looks comfortable in Mariners’ win over Royals

Mar 9, 2016, 5:24 PM | Updated: 5:41 pm
Taijuan Walker concentrated Wednesday on getting “a feel for throwing a first pitch curve for...
Taijuan Walker concentrated Wednesday on getting "a feel for throwing a first pitch curve for a strike." (AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – A nice start Wednesday for Taijuan Walker, who pitched three innings, giving up one run on three hits while allowing no walks and striking out five against the split-squad Royals.

Kansas City’s Drew Butera hit a solo home run in the third inning, but that was the only damage done as Walker was sharp with all of his pitches, starting with the fastball in the first inning, then working in his curve and changeup a little later.

Related: Recap of Mariners’ 7-5 win over Kansas City

The fastball had good velocity with Walker sitting 94-95 in the first inning while popping a few 96s. In the third inning he got strikeouts on the curve and changeup and, more impressively, threw the curve for a first-pitch strike. That is the pitch he has been working on the most in camp, and he liked what he saw from it.

“That was the whole thing for this outing, was to try to get a feel for throwing a first pitch curve for a strike because obviously the guy who hit the home run, he’s sitting fastball, and I feel like a lot of the people in the league are sitting fastball. So if I can throw a first pitch curveball for a strike, just to slow down their timing, that would be good. That’s what I have been working on all spring, establishing the curveball, and today I took a really, really big step forward with it.”

In addition to getting comfortable with the curveball, Walker has been getting comfortable with his new catchers. Wednesday it was Chris Iannetta who was behind the plate.

“He’s a really big target,” Walker said of the 6-foot, 230-pound Iannetta. “I like that. For the most part we have been on the same page. I think today was kind of the first time he realized my changeup was going to be my out pitch. Get the curveball in there, but the changeup is the out pitch.”

One of the interesting things with Iannetta catching is that fact that coming from the Angels, he has faced most of the Mariners pitchers. That gives him a different perspective.

In Walker’s case, however, Iannetta only faced him five times, and Taijuan was fairly certain he attacked him only with the fastball so he may not have had full appreciation for his changeup. For the record, Iannetta was 1 for 5 against Walker with 2 strikeouts and no walks.

The offensive standout of the day was Stefen Romero, who continues to impress. Against the Royals he hit a two-out double off the wall in left-center to tie up the game at 3 in the sixth inning.

“He’s off to a good start this spring,” said manager Scott Servais. “We’re going to give him plenty of at-bats and probably move him some to first base in a little bit to see how that works out after he had that unfortunate incident early in camp.”

Servais was referring to the ball that hit Romero in the leg at first base on March 3. While he suffered a pretty significant knee bruise, Romero was able to get back on the field in just a few days, which was fortunate for him as he is in a battle for a position on the 25-man roster.

A late entrant into the chase for the right-handed platoon spot at first base, Romero brings versatility in that he can both play the infield and outfield, and I think it is safe to say he is speedier than the rest of the competition at first. He no doubt earned points Wednesday, not just because he hit a double, but because he hit it off a lefty.

Opportunities can be few and far between to see lefties in the spring and that is exactly what the Mariners need to see from those in consideration at first, because that is what their role will be in the regular season. Romero made the most of his opportunity.

Up next for the Mariners, they take on the Cubs in Peoria on Thursday with Wade Miley scheduled to get the start against Tacoma native Jon Lester.

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Taijuan Walker looks comfortable in Mariners’ win over Royals