A new-look Walker turns in a big-game performance to no avail
TORONTO – What shouldn’t be and most likely won’t be lost in another disappointing loss by the Mariners was the performance of Taijuan Walker Wednesday night. It was an eye-opening performance. From the strikeout of Jose Reyes – the first batter he faced – to the 97-mph fastballs he threw to his last batter of the game, Walker dominated.
Most impressive to me was how he handled the situation. After watching starter after starter stumble and knowing that his team desperately needed a win, Walker took the game into his own hands, holding the Blue Jays scoreless and giving his team every opportunity to win until an incredibly well placed ball found turf in no-man’s land in the eighth inning.
Eight innings of four hits, one one walk, six strikeouts and one barely-earned run. This is a different Walker than we saw earlier this season. Pitching from the stretch since he has returned to the big leagues appears to have helped his command. Another change: Gone Wednesday night was the cutter that he felt should be a big pitch for him. Instead we saw more of the changeup that he is getting increasingly comfortable with.
I interviewed Walker on Tuesday for the pregame show and asked him about that changeup. It caught my attention in his previous outings as it had a higher velocity and was registering on PITCHf/x as a splitter. I asked Walker about the development of the pitch.
“I’ve messed with the changeup so much and I could never really find a good grip, I couldn’t make it slower so Terry Clark, our pitching coordinator, showed me this grip, and ever since then it worked. It’s firm but it has a lot of movement to it, so that helps.”
It is a firm or higher-velocity changeup like Felix Hernandez’s, but the grip is different.
“Not very much,” he answered when asked how split his grip is. “I have big hands so I just kind of spread my fingers a little bit, but I’m not like gripping it in there like a split-finger.”
Mike Zunino has noticed the change in the pitch and sees it as a weapon.
“I think it has got better life, better movement to it,” Zunino said. “I have great confidence calling it, especially to those lefties. It’s got great life and it really plays right off his fastball. He feels comfortable using it even as a put-away pitch.”
Walker’s changeup is a late-season tease. We most likely won’t see it again this year but it leaves you wondering if this pitch can help him take his game to another level.
“It’s a huge pitch. It’s definitely going to help keep them off my fastball even though it is upper 80s or 90s,” he said.
If he reports to camp in February with the 98-mph fastball, 74-76-mph curve and now an 88-91-mph changeup with movement, the Mariners’ rotation may just pick up where it left off in August.