Drayer: After making Mariners spring debut, Walker feels ‘normal again’
It wasn’t quite as if time stood still, but the sight of Taijuan Walker, three years after the trade that sent him to the Diamondbacks, on the hill in a Mariners uniform had a comfortable familiarity about it.
For Walker, who had been brought along slowly in camp and was making his Cactus League debut, not seeing someone at the plate in a Mariners uniform was a welcome sight.
“Three live batting practices and a sim game, all our guys so it was good,” he said of the “game” action he had been assigned in camp. “Good crowd, night game. It felt normal again.”
Felt normal and sounded normal for many a Walker start. You could hear a raucous section of the crowd when he took the mound and they weren’t just any Mariners fans, they were Walkers family. The giveaway for the group of 18?
“Let’s go TT!”
As we heard in Walker’s big league debut and many other games when he was with the Mariners, the shouting of his nickname indicated that his family was here in Maryvale to cheer him on in just his second outing since Tommy John surgery. They saw a good outing and a solid building block in the restart of his post-surgery career.
“Tonight was a big step forward for him,” said manager Scott Servais after the Mariners 2-1 walkoff loss to the Brewers. “The first inning, I didn’t know how it was going to play out but once he got rolling, once he got it going with his pitches, the stuff was really good. The velocity was there the intensity. The adrenaline got going, that was great to see.”
Walker’s first pitch, a fastball came in at 94 mph. His fifth pitch came in at 93 and left the ballpark at 103 mph, a rocket of a home run off the bat of Lorenzo Cain. A hard-hit single off the bat of Brock Holt followed, and interestingly enough, settled Walker down.
“The first two hitters, I was nervous,” he admitted after coming out of the game, adrenaline still flowing. “But I just wasn’t executing. I was trying to feel my way through. After the second I just relaxed and started being aggressive and feeling good.”
Walker completed three innings giving up just the one run, allowing four hits, striking out four and surrendering no walks. The fastball topped out at 96 mph according to the Maryvale radar gun, and he used a mix of the fastball, changeup and curveball to navigate his way through the Brewers lineup.
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The curveball in particular was interesting. It’s not the the big, loopy curveball we’ve seen previously from Walker, this one had more bite. Walker has switched to a spiked curve this offseason, a pitch Servais believes will benefit him.
“It’s quite a bit different,” Servais said. “He always had a good curveball, this one is much more consistent, it’s got more bite and finish to it. His armstroke being a little shorter, he is able to get his arm out in front and get on top of it. It’s going to be a big pitch for him.”
He will get a little more time to work on it. With Walker pitching out of the fifth spot in the rotation, he will get an extra start at the end of spring training. Monday night he threw 43 pitches, and he’s got time to build up enough to be ready for the start of the season.
With Monday night’s outing, he has one big start behind him. The questions he had coming off surgery and shoulder troubles that followed were put out of his mind. For the first time in a long time, he enjoyed three “normal” innings.