Evolving Walker turning corner for Mariners

Evolving Walker turning corner for Mariners

SEATTLE -- For a Mariners team looking for positives at this point, Taijuan Walker has begun providing a much-needed presence in a rotation now down two starters.

The 22-year-old right-hander equaled his career high of eight innings for a second straight outing as he held the Yankees to five hits and three runs in a 3-1 loss on Wednesday at Safeco Field.

Though Walker's season mark of 2-6 with a 5.80 ERA won't wow anyone, the Mariners are starting to see the kind of results expected from the hard-throwing California native, who's put up a 1.69 ERA with seven hits, one walk and 15 strikeouts in his last two outings against good-hitting Indians and Yankees lineups.

Walker gave up a solo homer to Mark Teixeira in the second and a two-run blast to Garrett Jones in the fourth, but otherwise was in shutdown mode for eight frames in Wednesday's setback.

"I thought he only made one mistake, the changeup that cut back a little to the lefty [Jones], and he put a good swing on it," said catcher Mike Zunino. "It stinks that we couldn't score more runs and help him out, because he threw a great game."

On a Mariners team trying to ride out a five-game skid and a 1-6 homestand, Walker's performance was the silver lining on an otherwise tough afternoon at Safeco Field.

"He was outstanding," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "It was a tremendous outing and it's nice to see him turning the corner."

After his early-season struggles had his ERA at an unhealthy 8.74 following his first five starts, Walker has flipped that to a 3.96 mark in his last six outings, capped by his best two starts during this homestand.

"I feel real confident, real comfortable out there on the mound now," Walker said. "I feel real good with all my pitches right now."

The Yankees stacked their lineup with six lefties and two switch-hitters, but Walker handled that for the most part, just as he had in similar circumstances with his two-hit gem against the Indians five days earlier.

"I think it was good too because I got to throw my curveball a lot more," Walker said. "My next start is the Indians again [Tuesday in Cleveland] and the last time I faced them, they had eight lefties. So I think I'll be more prepared and I'll have three really good pitches to throw against them next time."

Zunino said Walker's improving curveball is a valuable weapon to offset the mid-90s heat he can bring.

"The last couple starts, he's had a plus fastball and had great command with it," Zunino said. "It's had great life at the end and he's throwing a great changeup and a good curveball to keep them off balance. That's the key. We know he's going to throw his fastball quite a bit and he's throwing his offspeed for strikes and just below the zone where he needs to, for the most part."

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