Mariners’ Taijuan Walker gets back to work after disastrous start
Sep 4, 2016, 9:03 PM | Updated: Sep 5, 2016, 11:03 am
Sunday morning, the day after he was able to go just 2/3 of an inning against the Angels while giving up six runs and doing anything but getting his team that was in desperate need of a win off to a good start, Taijuan Walker headed out to the field with Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and went to work on his mechanics. It was the only thing he could do after his disastrous performance.
“You get to work. You get to work,” Scott Servais answered when asked how he as a manager is handling Walker going into his next start, which he will make with the big-league club. “He’s embarrassed by the outing. He’s not happy with it. He came in last night when everyone else left and wanted to talk to Mel and come up with a plan and where do they go moving forward.”
After giving up just 15 runs in his first nine starts and limiting opposing hitters to a batting average of .226 and an OPS of .640, Walker surrendered 38 runs in his next 11 outings, allowing opponents to hit .277 against him with a .923 OPS. In that span he has an ERA of 6.37 and has averaged fewer than five innings per start. His fastball has been down a tick and his changeup hasn’t been what we’ve seen in the past. The attack from the Angels was swift and loud. Loud enough to perhaps be a turning point for Walker, according to general manager Jerry Dipoto.
“It’s been an up and down year for him,” Dipoto said on the “Mariners Magazine” show on Sunday. “In many ways, it’s been maybe his most trying year as a major-leaguer. For a lot of players, you have to hit the bottom before you bounce back up.”
Walker’s strong finish to 2015 followed by his great spring and solid start in 2016 and then the the first occurrence of his foot injury on June 14 in Tampa perhaps masked a number of problems. Mechanically, the Mariners have among other things wanted Walker to use his lower half more for some time now. While he showed some improvement with attempted changes in some bullpen sessions, he never really took them to the field. Another problem is a lack of solid third pitch. Servais believes one could help the other.
“Whether it is the slider or curveball, he is going to need a breaking ball,” Servais said. “Part of that is driven by the things he needs to do mechanically that need to be adjusted. I certainly think he’s all ears and open to everything that is being thrown out to him this morning.”
Added Dipoto: “He’s going to have to get down there and work on the small things – the fundamentals of pitching, the delivery, the consistency of release point. Those are things I think Taijuan is willing to do. Yesterday was a rough day for him, probably his worst start as a big-leaguer, coming off a start I thought was really good against Chicago. Somewhere along the way we have got to tap into the consistency. In order to do that you have got to be willing and (have) open ears, (be) willing to adapt. And I think Taijuan is there.”
Sunday morning, Walker appeared to be “there.” He was seen working on his legs in his delivery during a flat-ground session under the watch of both Stottlemyre and Pete Harnisch, a special assistant in player development. Walker also appeared to be working on different glove position. The work toward changes was a welcomed sight for Servais.
“That’s the only way I know to go about it,” Servais said. “You don’t just sit on your couch and say, ‘OK, it will be better next time.’ You go to work.”
It’s important work. With four years of club control and every bit of potential remaining, not to mention an upcoming free-agent class that is extremely weak in starting pitching, the Mariners need to get Walker right.