MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Walker's return to form gives Mariners boost

Righty being counted on to step up in Felix's absence

Walker's return to form gives Mariners boost

SEATTLE -- It was time. There's been enough talk about the potential of the likes of Seattle Mariners pitchers James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, and how promising a future they both possess. The future, however, is right now for the Mariners.

Seattle was built in the offseason to be a factor in the American League West. And for that to happen, the Mariners need Paxton and Walker to turn potential into results.

Both Paxton and Walker took a step in that direction this week, as part of Seattle's resurgent rotation that can't spend time worrying about the fact Felix Hernandez is on the disabled list if the franchise is going to put a 14-year postseason drought, during which every big league team has been a part of baseball's October, to rest.

Paxton, filling the starting void created by Hernandez's absence, made his presence felt on Monday night, allowing just one earned run, but he was betrayed by the defense in a 3-1 loss to the Indians.

Paxton's 10-strikeout outing

And on Wednesday night, it was Walker who stepped to the forefront with eight innings of pure domination of the AL Central-leading Indians in a 5-0 victory in which he allowed three singles and struck out 11 with no walks.

"We haven't seen that since April," said Mariners manager Scott Servais.

Servais on 5-0 win over Indians

And the timing couldn't be better for Seattle's rotation to rebound from the struggles that have seen its ERA climb above 4.00. After another game against the Indians on Thursday, the Mariners will welcome the Rangers to town for the weekend, looking to avenge the sweep they suffered against Texas last weekend.

In first place when they arrived in Texas last Friday, the Mariners were looking up at the Rangers in the standings by the time they left town. And even with victories the past two nights against Cleveland, Seattle still finds itself three games back of Texas.

That's why the clubhouse was so upbeat after the way Walker handled the Indians.

Iannetta discusses 5-0 win

The Mariners hadn't even had a glimpse of anything close to that from Walker since April, when he allowed only four earned runs in 25 innings, finishing the month off with back-to-back wins, only to stumble through his next seven starts, going 0-6 with a 5.77 ERA.

That led to some soul searching and lengthy sessions with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., in which the focus was more on the mental game than physical.

"Intensity" was the word that was stressed by Servais, Walker, Stottlemyre and catcher Chris Iannetta, who was more expansive on Walker's domination than he was his own night, which included four RBIs, two home runs and a double.

Iannetta's two homers, four RBIs

"You have to find that alter ego," said Iannetta. "He's not naturally a mean-spirited person. It can be hard for him to find that zone. He's still learning himself. He's still learning his body. With a young pitcher, it's part of the game within the game, figuring out your body, figuring out what makes you great."

Walker had all parts in place against the Indians. How good was he? Try 110 pitches, 76 of which were strikes. Try not allowing a baserunner in six of the eight innings he pitched, and having to deal with a runner in scoring position in just one inning -- the fourth.

And it was testimony to Walker's focus that he got out of that fourth inning without giving up a run. He did, after all, give up back-to-back singles to Rajai Davis and Jason Kipnis to open the inning. Then, however, Walker got Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana to pop up. After a balk that put runners on second and third, Walker found an added incentive and struck out Lonnie Chisenhall to end the inning.

"I have to figure out what triggers that intensity," said Walker. "I'm a nice guy. It is hard for me to be mad. It takes something to get me upset. I can't let little things like a missed call and bloop hit bother me. I have to pitch through it."

Walker showed an ability to do that, after the balk call, when he saw Davis trotting to third base and laughing.

"OK," Walker remembered saying to himself, "I'll show you something."

And he did -- at Chisenhall's expense.

Walker wound up with a win for his effort, while Paxton suffered a loss on Monday. Both pitchers, however, earned some confidence about their ability to dominate at the big league level.

"It was exciting to see," said Servais. "It was a lift for us. Both those guys can carry a team."

Walker fans Martinez in the 8th

The Mariners could use that type of rotation input right now.

They are keeping a good front up about Hernandez's ability to return quickly from the strained right calf that forced him on the disabled list on June 1. But he is now wearing a walking boot on the leg in an effort to take some pressure off the calf area in hopes of expediting his healing.

Hernandez remains upbeat about a return, and he is working to keep up his arm strength by playing catch while sitting down.

No return date, however, has been set. That's why seeing Walker follow up the recent effort of Paxton with domination is so uplifting for the Mariners.

"Hopefully they will get on a run, both guys," said Servais. "They can carry you."

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.