Resilient Walker gives Mariners shot at victory

Resilient Walker gives Mariners shot at victory

SEATTLE -- The education of Taijuan Walker continues, and while the results still haven't arrived in tangible form in 2016, progress is being made.

Wednesday afternoon's start at Safeco Field was a bit of a microcosm of Walker's Major League career to date: start off slowly, gather momentum and leave with hope that everything is going to click soon. The Mariners need that from their golden-armed young right-hander, especially now while they're scratching and clawing for every hit and run.

And in the Mariners' 4-2 walk-off victory against the Rangers, Walker gave them a quality start and the opportunity to prevail. Seattle didn't do it soon enough for Walker to earn his first victory of the season, but it eventually got it done in the bottom of the 10th on Dae-Ho Lee's pinch-hit homer.

• Lee hopes walk-off sparks 'winning streak'

"The goal was to go out there and give the team the best chance to win, and I think I did a good job of that," said Walker, who pitched six innings, giving up one run on five hits while striking out four and walking two.

"Me and [catcher] Chris [Iannetta] were on the same page. We just went after them. We had a shaky first, but after that, things settled down a bit and I made them put the ball in play and got outs."

Things didn't start out so promising for Walker, who had pitched well enough in his season debut against Oakland on Friday. In that outing, he gave up two runs on seven hits in six innings, striking out four and not walking a batter.

On Wednesday, he walked two batters and gave up a single to load the bases in the first inning, and while he wiggled out of that jam, he threw 30 pitches in the frame. He threw 12 in the second inning and another 28 while giving up an RBI single to Adrian Beltre in the third. He was already at 70 pitches after three.

Walker strands bases loaded

But just like he started to resemble a burgeoning ace in the second half of 2015, Walker found a rhythm halfway through this outing.

He breezed through the fourth, getting three straight outs on eight pitches, and he surrendered only one hit the rest of the way, firing another 30 pitches through the fifth and sixth to finish off his day at 108 pitches. It wasn't a spotless piece of pitching artwork by any means, but it did put the Mariners, who led, 2-1, at the time of Walker's departure, in position to win.

Walker showed some extra intensity, too, hitting 96 mph on the radar gun during his final batter and even offering home-plate umpire Laz Diaz some strongly worded opinions about the strike zone as he walked off the field.

MLB Central on Taijuan Walker

"I definitely saw that," Iannetta said of Walker's fiery persona. "We got the last out, he threw all fastballs and one was harder than the next. He just pounded the zone."

Mariners manager Scott Servais said the team can see Walker maturing "before our eyes."

"He's got a chance to have a big year for us," Servais said. "It took him a little while. We didn't see the big fastball until real late, and he kind of dug deep and got a little extra, which was nice to see."

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.