After two scoreless innings, Taijuan Walker looked like he was on a fast track to fill the Seattle Mariners’ pitching vacancy Wednesday against the Texas Rangers.
But five runs, nine hits, two walks and 84 pitches later, Walker’s night was done. So what exactly went wrong with him in Tacoma’s 8-0 loss to Iowa on Monday night at Cheney Stadium?
“Taijuan, first two innings were nice, then he got some balls up a little bit,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “It’s the way it is when you have a big, strong power pitcher doing his thing, it just seems they run streaks like that.”
The top pitching prospect in the organization worked fast in the first and second, recording three strikeouts and retiring six of his first seven batters on 20 pitches. One of his fastballs registered at 98 mph on the stadium’s radar gun.
But in the third inning is when disaster struck.
Walker yielded four runs, four hits, a walk and a hit batsman, while his pitch count jumped to 47.
Three of the runs came on a home run to left field by Jorge Soler. After Soler’s homer, Walker drilled Rafael Lopez in the head with a fastball. Lopez remained in the game.
The damage could have been worse when Walker allowed back-to-back two-out singles to put runners on the corners, but he was bailed out as Ty Kelly made a diving stop and threw to second for the force.
He allowed another run in the sixth before departing after the inning, finishing with six strikeouts in his 104 pitches.
Tacoma didn’t have much depth in its bullpen after using six pitchers in the Rainiers’ 5-4, 14-inning victory Sunday over Iowa.
That’s why Kelly — who is primarily an infielder — was called upon in the ninth to pitch.
“It’s kind of a weird thing to be called out there to pitch when you’re a position player. It’s the first time I’ve done it in pro ball,” Kelly said.
Kelly pitched a 1-2-3 inning, inducing a ground out and two fly outs in the first pitching appearance of his career. Kelly thought he would be throwing around 84 mph, but his pitch speed averaged around 88. He also went 1-for-3 at the plate.
“I was pretty nervous. I was glad I was able to throw strikes and kind of get in and get out as quick as I could,” Kelly said. “I was throwing it pretty hard. I didn’t really expect to throw as hard as I did and have control.”
Kelly was the third position player to pitch for the Rainiers this season, joining Humberto Quintero and Leury Bonilla.
The Rainiers’ offense finished with only six hits.
“We just couldn’t get anything going in any direction,” Howell said. “We just did nothing offensively. We couldn’t find a hole, we didn’t hit the ball well. It happens. It’s one of those nights. You just don’t want that to happen when you have good efforts on the mound.”
Justin Smoak — who went 1-for-3 with a single in the fourth — has batted .395 in his last 10 games.
The Tacoma Rainiers play their second to last home game against the Iowa Cubs at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday. The Rainiers are scheduled to start right-handed pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (5-5, 3.63 ERA) against right-hander Dan Straily (7-7, 4.00 ERA). The game can be heard on 850-AM.