With two consecutive good starts, Taijuan Walker is starting to show some consistency.
Five days after striking out a career-best 13 batters on Sunday against Fresno, Walker once again pitched very well in the Tacoma Rainiers’ 6-3 win at New Orleans on Friday night.
Walker allowed a run on a walk and two singles in the first inning. He threw a lot of pitches while walking two batters in the third, but then settled into a real groove while retiring nine consecutive hitters.
All told, it was six innings of three-hit ball for Walker. He struck out nine, walked three, and threw 105 pitches. Two of the three hits he allowed were infield singles.
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“He and (pitching coach Jaime Navarro) have been working on that first inning, coming out and being really aggressive,” Tacoma manager Roy Howell said. “He’s a big strong guy; he has to calm himself down so he doesn’t get too excited. After that first inning he settled down and just started letting the ball come out of his hand.”
Walker (6-3) earned the win as Tacoma gave him an early lead. Ty Kelly hit a two-run double over the head of center fielder Austin Wates in the first inning, and Xavier Avery pulled a solo homer to right field in the second innings. Avery’s ninth homer of the year was a splash hit — it landed in the swimming pool behind the fence at Zephyr Field.
New Orleans starter Elih Villanueva (10-9) was charged with the loss. The starting pitcher for the Pacific Coast League in the Triple-A All-Star Game, Villanueva allowed four runs in five innings.
The win boosted Tacoma’s record to 66-61, marking the first time this season that Tacoma has been five games over .500. Tacoma won the series in New Orleans, three games to one.
“We had ups and downs here, but we came out on top,” Howell said. “Pitching, defense ... you put it all together and we had three wins.”
Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders (oblique) resumed his rehabilitation after missing three games on paternity leave. Saunders went 2-for-4 with two walks.
The Rainiers placed designated hitter Jesus Montero on the disabled list with a pulled left oblique. Infielder Gabriel Noriega was activated from the disabled list — he had been out of action since July 27 with a strained right calf. ... Shortstop Ketel Marte left the game in the second inning with cramping in his leg.
The trip moves to the suburbs of Austin, Texas, when the Rainiers open a four-game series at 4:05 p.m. (PDT) Saturday at Round Rock. Tacoma starts Erasmo Ramirez (3-5, 3.76 ERA) against Round Rock’s Lisalverto Bonilla (3-1, 4.34).
Mike Curto is the radio announcer for the Rainiers.