And, shock of shocks, it’s Taijuan Walker. He of the zero earned runs in 18 innings, with 19 strikeouts and a combined 10 hits & walks. This was a guy on a mission to win a job by any means necessary and he did it!
What any of this means for the regular season is anybody’s guess. If you could guarantee me right now Michael Pineda’s rookie numbers for Taijuan Walker, I’d take ’em in a heartbeat. I think the upside’s a little higher with Walker, actually, given his experience thus far, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. It may be unfair to expect dominant, #1 starter numbers out of Walker this year, but it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility. He’s got the good fastball. If he can control it, keep it around the strike zone, and have good control of his offspeed stuff out of the zone for whiffs, we could be looking at one of the keys to our season.
The Mariners have been pretty lucky to have quality starting pitching at the top part of the rotation with Felix and Iwakuma the last couple years. Having two good/great starting pitchers will take you only so far. It’s how those 3/4/5 pitchers do – especially in the 3/4 range – that will determine where your team is going to go. If we believe the offense is what it is, and the bullpen is what it is (both consistently “good enough”), and as long as nothing shockingly negative happens to Felix & Iwakuma, then it’s easy to make the argument the two most important players on this team will be James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. We’re only going as far as these two guys will take us. If they take the next step and become competent Major League pitchers, then we should be in the running for the division, or at least a wild card spot. If they fall apart, then we’re probably screwed unless we’re able to make a move at the deadline.
One week to go. Let’s get it on.