Walker shows marked improvement in strong outing

Mariners' pitcher strikes out eight in best start of season

Walker shows marked improvement in strong outing

SEATTLE -- A Mariners squad that has struggled to overcome poor starting pitching early in the season saw that pattern flipped Tuesday night when a late bullpen meltdown spoiled a solid outing from young right-hander Taijuan Walker in a 6-3 loss to the Astros.

Walker allowed just one run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings, a marked improvement for the 22-year-old after he'd been beaten up in two previous starts and came in with a 17.18 ERA. That mark lowered to 10.66 with his first outing of more than four frames, but he missed out on his first victory of the season when Houston rallied for five runs in the eighth off relievers Charlie Furbush and Danny Farquhar.

The good news was Walker looked far more like the pitcher expected to help bolster Seattle's rotation this season as he tied a career-best eight strikeouts and turned a 3-1 lead over to the 'pen. The downside was four walks and 101 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, but there was no question this was a significant step forward for the talented youngster.

"I thought he was outstanding," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He did exactly what I thought he was going to do. Obviously the pitch count got up a little bit, but he pounded the zone and really pitched off his fastball very well. He did a nice job for us."

Walker, hitting 95-98 mph with his heater, struck out the side in the second and kept the Astros at bay by retiring Jose Altuve with a bases-loaded grounder in the fourth to preserve the early lead.

"I just went out there and attacked them with the fastball," Walker said. "That was the main focus. I definitely don't like the four walks, but it was a start to build off."

Walker got a little help from home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor in the fifth when he struck out George Springer after what should have been another walk.

"At first I thought, 'OK, that was ball four," Walker said. "But I looked up and he was still in the box, so I thought, maybe I'm tripping or something. In the dugout, they said it was ball four. So thank you, I guess. That was huge."

But the Mariners' good fortunes ran out in the eighth when the Astros jumped on Farquhar and Furbush following a leadoff error on Robinson Cano. McClendon has said the bullpen can't keep salvaging short outings from the starters every game, but Furbush said that wasn't an issue.

"We're all good to go," said Furbush, who gave up ground-ball singles to Marwin Gonzalez and Chris Carter after Cano's error, before giving way to Farquhar.

"Everyone is ready at all times down there. That's why we're down there. When the situation calls, whether it's early or late in the game, we still have got to keep grinding. We'll keep working hard and get ready for the next game tomorrow."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.