Dustin Ackley delivered four hits, drove in four runs and made a remarkable sliding catch against the wall in center in the fifth inning, helping 21-year-old Taijuan Walker make a successful major league debut in a 7-1 victory over the Houston Astros Friday night at Minute Maid Park. The Mariners (61-73) won their second in a row following a six-game losing streak.
Walker’s debut couldn’t have gone much better. He worked 5.0 innings, allowed only two hits, did not allow an earned run, struck out two and walked one, throwing 43 of his 70 pitches for strikes. He became, at age 21 years, 17 days, the youngest Seattle pitcher to win a starting debut, eclipsing Travis Blackley, who was 21 years, 240 days when he defeated Texas 8-4 July 1, 2004.
Walker got off to a fast start, retiring the first big league batter he faced, Robbie Grossman, on a fly ball to Ackley. He then induced ground-ball outs by Jason Castro and Jose Altuve.
Houston picked up an unearned run in the third when Raul Ibanez misplayed a ball in left field that went for a double and Justin Smoak made an error at first. The Mariners came back with two in the fourth on Ackley’s RBI single and a fielder’s choice by rookie Abraham Almonte, and added three in the fifth on Kyle Seager’s RBI single and Ackley’s two-run single.
Ackley had the highlight of the game in the bottom fifth when he ran a long way to chase down a deep Grossman fly ball near the center field wall. The sliding catch was the best Ackley has made since converting to the outfield.
STREAKS: The Mariners improved to 33-32 against the AL West and to 9-5 against the feeble Astros. Houston lost for the sixth time in seven games and for the 90th time in 2013.
BATS: In addition to Ackley’s four hits, which included an eighth-inning triple, Brad Miller delivered a pair from the leadoff slot as the Mariners produced 11 hits overall. Ackley’s four RBIs, which tied a career high, hiked his season total to 26. Ackley is batting .319 (45×141) since his conversion to the outfield and .360 since the All Star break. He lifted his season average to .261 . . . Almonte, summoned from AAA Tacoma to the Mariners Friday after Michael Morse’s trade to Baltimore, went 1-for-4 in his major league debut and also picked up his two RBIs . . . The Mariners went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position. In their previous seven games, they had gone 5-for-32 (.156).
ARMS: Four Seattle pitchers combined to limit Houston to four hits. After Walker departed at the end of the fifth, Carter Capps worked 2.0 scoreless innings, allowing one hit with one strikeout, and then Charlie Furbush worked a perfect eighth. Oliver Perez finished it off with a scoreless ninth.
QUOTES: “This feels really good, especially getting the win. We scored a lot of runs and (Dustin) Ackley made an awesome play out there in center. I had a lot of fun. I heard my mother yelling. It was great” — Taijuan Walker, after winning his major league debut.
“He did a nice job, he was under control. He was trying to feel his way and he got more and more comfortable as they game wore on. Just a really nice job on his secondary stuff (breaking balls). I really liked the way he handled himself. He kept his mind in the moment” — Eric Wedge, on Taijuan Walker.
“You can really see his confidence growing. His feel for the game getting better. That (catch in center field) was one where he kept going and going made a heck of a catch. You see him getting better week to week” — Wedge, on Dustin Ackley.
NEXT: Saturday at 4:10 p.m., PT. LHP Joe Saunders (10-13, 5.09) will work for Seattle opposite LHP Dallas Keuchel (5-7, 4.82). Following the Houston series, the Mariners play four at Kansas City before returning to Safeco Field Sept. 6 against Tampa Bay.