Hard-throwing Walker learning location

Rockies, sitting on prized prospect’s heat, make him pay for his lack of control

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comMarch 5, 2013 

PEORIA, Ariz. — Taijuan Walker can throw a baseball with more velocity than almost anyone in the Seattle organization.

But he knows it doesn’t matter how hard you throw if a big league hitter knows what’s coming. If they’re expecting a fastball, odds are it will get tagged.

Walker’s outing on Monday was a reminder.

The prized pitching prospect struggled in his third appearance of the spring, giving up three runs in his second inning during Seattle’s 16-6 win over the Colorado Rockies at Peoria Stadium.

Walker entered the game in the third inning and made quick work of the Rockies with a 1-2-3 performance.

But in the fourth inning, he wasn’t quite as sharp. He left a fastball up in the strike zone to Nolan Arenado, who ripped a solo homer to left-center field.

“I was looking for a first-pitch fastball,” Arenado said.

After striking out Tyler Colvin, more troubled ensued when he walked DJ LeMahieu and then gave up three straight singles allowing the Rockies to score two more runs.

“I just wasn’t locating my fastball,” Walker said. “I wasn’t putting it where I wanted and was getting behind in counts. They just jumped on the fastball.”

Walker appeared to catch a break when catcher Kelly Shoppach threw out Eric Young Jr. attempting to steal second for the second out of the inning.

But getting the third out took some work. Walker walked the next two batters before getting Michael Cuddyer to ground out to first base to end the inning.

Besides his lack of fastball command, Walker struggled with his curveball. He threw four in the game, none of them for strikes. Hitters began to adjust.

“Anyone can hit a fastball if they see it constantly,” Walker said. “I have to keep working ahead in the counts and get my off-speed pitches over for strikes.”

Walker threw 42 pitches, only 22 of them for strikes. He was charged with three earned runs on four hits with three walks.

“We left him out there to get through it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It should have been a good learning moment for him.

“He’s very fluid,” Wedge said. “He’s very easy with his delivery. The ball jumps out of his hand. But he’s still a young pitcher working to get better.”

GARLAND GETS IT DONE

Jon Garland’s road back to the big leagues continues without incident. The veteran right-hander threw two shutout innings in his second appearance of spring.

That’s not to say the innings were easy.

Garland walked the first hitter of the game – something that irked him.

“I walked the fastest guy in the building (Eric Young Jr.),” Garland said. “You are just giving them an opportunity to start something in the first inning and bury your guys a little bit.”

He allowed a hit, but got a pair of key ground balls to get out of the inning.

In his second inning he gave up a leadoff double to the veteran Colvin. But Garland worked his way out of the inning without allowing Colvin to score.

“I’m still keeping the ball down,” Garland said. “If they are hitting the ball on the ground, and the ball is moving and missing the bat in the right places, I can’t be too upset.”

The dry Arizona air doesn’t make it easy for Garland to get his pitches to move with their normal action.

“It’s hard to get a true feel out here because your breaking ball isn’t going to break as much,” he said. “With that thin air … you can’t really grip it as well, but it’s starting to feel a little more comfortable each time.”

The most positive aspect of his spring so far is that his surgically repaired throwing shoulder hasn’t bothered him.

“If I’m able to throw the next day, I consider it feeling good,” he said. “So we are doing good.”

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners announced that pitching ace Felix Hernandez will start Thursday’s split-squad game against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. It will be his first Cactus League appearance this spring. … Mariners great Jay Buhner arrived in Peoria and was in uniform for Monday’s game. Buhner will work with outfielders while in camp. … Buhner’s close buddy, Ken Griffey Jr., will also arrive in the next day or two. Griffey also does some coaching with the minor league players. … The organization’s minor league players not invited to big league camp reported to Peoria, meaning over 150 players are now occupying the seven fields at the complex.

SPRING TRAINING RECAP

MARINERS 16, ROCKIES 6 (at PEORIA Stadium)

The facts: The Mariners continued their push to become the 1927 Yankees of the 2013 Cactus League. Seattle (10-1) banged out 16 hits and scored 16 runs in pummeling Colorado. It was the Mariners’ 10th straight win. Raul Ibañez and Kyle Seager each hit home runs to push the Mariners’ total to 24 in 11 games. It was the eighth-straight game they hit multiple home runs.

Play of the game: A routine ground ball is supposed to be easy for a big league first baseman. But it wasn’t for Rockies first baseman Michael Cuddyer. Seager’s hard grounder ate up Cuddyer, bouncing off his glove and allowing Seager to reach first safely. It should have been the third out of the fourth inning. Instead, the inning stayed alive and Seattle scored six runs with two outs to turn a 3-3 tie into a 9-3 lead.

Who was hot: Casper Wells wasn’t hot coming into the game. The outfielder was hitting .111 (2-for-18) with a double and a home run this spring. But he came to life against the Rockies, going 3-for-4 with a single, a double, a triple and five RBI. The big blast was a bases-loaded triple to right-center field in the six-run fourth inning. “He’s worked hard to shorten up his swing, and we’ve seen that this spring,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.

Who was not: Mariners fans are familiar with Miguel Batista’s mercurial innings. The one-time Seattle pitcher can look dominant one moment and awful the next. It happened in the fourth inning. Now a pitcher for the Rockies, Batista looked sharp striking out Robert Andino and Carlos Triunfel before he walked Franklin Gutierrez after jumping ahead 1-2 in the count. After Cuddyer’s error on Seager’s hard grounder, Batista fell apart, allowing a RBI double to Ibañez and a three-run triple to Wells. While none of the runs were earned, Batista allowed four hits and two walks in the inning.

Quotable: “I just want him to keep on the path. He obviously proved to everybody that he’s very capable of being successful in the big leagues.” — Wedge on third baseman Kyle Seager.

Extra innings: Shortstop Triunfel had a solid game, going 2-for-5 at the plate, while also making a pair of nice plays in the field. … Catcher John Hicks, who had an infield single in his only at-bat, is now 5-for-8 this spring. … Reliever Stephen Pryor wasn’t quite as sharp as previous outings, giving up two runs on two hits, including a home run to Kent Matthes. … Robert Andino made two outs in the fourth inning. Batista struck him out to start the inning and Andino grounded out to short to end the inning.

On tap: The Mariners are off today. They will return to action at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday when they play host to the Milwaukee Brewers. Blake Beavan is the scheduled starter.

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com

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