Jerry Dipoto says Mariners ‘really need’ Taijuan Walker for stretch run

Aug 19, 2016, 12:25 AM | Updated: 2:26 pm
Taijuan Walker...
The Mariners had high hopes for pitcher Taijuan Walker, but he's been plagued by inconsistency. (AP)

Trips to Triple-A have seemed to be the trick for the Mariners this season, as Mike Zunino, James Paxton and Norichika Aoki have all regrouped in Tacoma at various points and returned to Seattle as more productive players.

Taijuan Walker is now two starts into his own stint with the Rainiers, and the eventual homecoming in Seattle for the 24-year-old starting pitcher may prove to be one of the most crucial points in the Mariners’ campaign.

Seattle has started a staggering 13 pitchers this year, and the rotation has relied on names like Ariel Miranda, Joe Wieland and Cody Martin to pitch in the No. 4 and 5 spots in recent weeks. Paxton is expected back soon from a bruise on his left arm, and it’s plausible that Walker could join him next week, especially considering he threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings for Tacoma on Thursday night.

That performance by Walker was surely welcome news for Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, who earlier Thursday explained to “Danny, Dave and Moore” how important Walker could be for the team in the final month of the season.

“In the case of Taijuan Walker, we really need him. And this is a time, obviously the back of our rotation right now is put together by some duct tape and some extra wire we’ve found in the garage,” Dipoto said. “The one thing that can solve that is for Taijuan Walker to come and assert himself as a consistent force for us down the stretch.”

Walker has always had potential, and it looked like he was turning that potential into reality when he opened 2016 with four straight quality starts and a shiny 1.44 ERA to go with them. But in 13 starts after that – including five that occurred after he began to be bothered by right foot tendinitis – he pitched through the sixth inning in just three of them.

The Mariners are now trying to help Walker find consistency, especially when it comes to getting deeper in games. And with the team in a playoff race, that meant Walker needed to find it in the minors.

“We need to see Taijuan drop into the sixth- and seventh-inning zone of a game and prove to us that he can be more efficient with his pitches,” Dipoto said. “As a major leaguer over the past two years, Tai has not really had an issue with walks … but he’s not done a great job of being efficient with his pitches, and as a result he’s not always as consistent getting deep into games as we’d like for a starting pitcher. And that’s just something we challenged Tai and said to go out and do.

“It’s going to be tough for him to go and do that in a two-start stretch in Triple-A, but we didn’t have the time or the length of schedule remaining in the big leagues. … The guy he was in April was extraordinary. We’re not expecting that. We need someone who can consistently get us into the sixth inning.”

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