Mariners notebook: Jonah Keri believes Taijuan Walker could eclipse Felix Hernandez in 2016

Feb 1, 2016, 4:00 PM | Updated: 6:02 pm
In 29 starts last season, Taijuan Walker posted a 4.59 ERA with 157 strikeouts and 40 walks, good for the seventh-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the league. (AP)
(AP)

Some good Mariners talk on the radio Monday, including an interview on “Bob, Groz and Tom” with MLB analyst Jonah Keri of CBS Sports, SI Now and the Jonah Keri podcast. Despite getting burned by the Mariners last year in the predictions category, Keri is not backing off Seattle in 2016.

“I’m very bullish on the Mariners,” he said, later noting that if they don’t compete for the division title, they at least should be in contention for a wild-card spot. “Very, very bullish.”

Keri talked about what he thought went wrong in 2015 and pointed to “hit clustering” as one of the problems.

Listen to Keri on “Bob, Groz and Tom”

“That’s more of a luck stat than skills, and could be worth four or five more wins over last year,” he said.

He likes the addition of first baseman Adam Lind and what general manager Jerry Dipoto has done with the bullpen.

“These are relatively reliable relief pitchers, especially (Joaquin) Benoit, and you just hope for the best,” Keri said while pointing out that luck is always a factor with the bullpen. “You just give yourself the best chance so that if guy X and Y break down then maybe you’ve got a Z to go to.”

Keri’s highest praise came for right-hander Taijuan Walker, a player that he believes can have a breakout season this year.

“I love Taijuan Walker. His ERA didn’t necessarily reflect it, but in terms of strikeouts to walks, very very good,” Keri said. “Not only blew the ball by guys, but did a pretty good job with command and control for somebody as young and relatively inexperienced as he is. I really like him a lot. I think he has a chance to be a good pitcher.”

“I will go you one more,” Keri continued. “Felix tailed off a little bit last season. I could see a scenario where Taijuan Walker, not Felix Hernandez, is the best pitcher on this staff in 2016. That’s how good I think he can be.”

Keri said he thinks the success of the Mariners in 2016 will ultimately hinge on the performance of the young pitchers. He also touched on the rest of the division, the strengths of manager Scott Servais, and his thoughts on the part that technology should play between the lines.

Notes

• “Hot Stove” programming alert: I have been looking forward to this one. We have booked Mariners farm director Andy McKay for Tuesday night’s show. Count on at least two segments with him as we look to learn more about the development systems that are being implemented throughout the organization. Catcher Mike Zunino will also join the show.

• The Mariners have signed Cuban defector Dayner Moreira to a minor-league deal. Moreira is a 32-year-old slash-hitting utility man whose main tool is his speed. He will attend attend the upcoming minicamp for minor-league players.

• The Travis Ishikawa deal that was reported to be close last week never materialized and it does not appear he will be heading to spring training with the Mariners. The team is expected to add catcher Steve Lerud on a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.

• A total of 21,771 came through the turnstiles at FanFest last weekend, the second-largest attendance at the event in team history. If you are looking for a feel-good story from FanFest, MyNorthwest.com’s Eric Mandel has one about an usher at Safeco Field who claims he has given away over 900,000 baseball cards in his 10 years with the club.

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