BY Anthony Dion 08:12PM 09/24/2014

Walker to Mariners rescue, but hitters helpless

In search of a much-needed victory Wednesday, the Mariners offered up another dud. Enduring their fifth consecutive loss and 12th in the past 17 games, Seattle squandered a brilliant effort from rookie starter Taijuan Walker and fell 1-0 to Mark Buehrle and the Blue Jays in Toronto.

The disappointment was compounded by the fact that an earlier loss by the Athletics, 5-4 to the Angels, breathed life into the playoff bid by Seattle. Cleveland also beat Kansas City 6-4, and pushed the Indians to 83-76, a half-game behind the Mariners at 83-75. The A’s and Royals are tied at 86-72 for the American League wild card spots with four to play.

The Mariners were shut out for the 19th time, which took a mere one hour, 59 minutes.

The Mariners walked away encouraged about one aspect: Walker, the team’s 2010 first round pick (43rd overall). He pitched the best game of his brief major league career. The right-hander held a Toronto squad that scored 24 runs off Seattle pitching in the first two games of the series to one run on four hits and a walk in a career-high eight innings.

It should have been better than that. In the eighth inning, Walker (2-3, 2.61 ERA) issued his only walk, a four-pitch pass to the light-hitting Munenori Kawasaki, a former Mariner. Walker recovered to strike out Anthony Gose swinging on an 88 mph changeup for the second out and his sixth strikeout. Walker then engineered a weak fly ball off the bat of Ryan Goins for what appeared to be the third out.

Unfortunately for the 22-year-old and the Mariners, it wasn’t. The lazy fly ball found hard turf when the trio of Austin Jackson, Robinson Cano and right fielder Logan Morrison couldn’t reach it. Jackson, playing regular depth, got a late jump on the ball, which was hit off the end of the bat. Cano peeled off his pursuit in the last moment, thinking Jackson had a play.

Instead, Kawasaki, benefiting from the ball’s high bounce off the hard surface, scored all the way from first, thanks to a good jump on the 3-2 pitch.

Trailing 1-0 in the ninth inning after succumbing to the dealings of Buehrle, Chris Taylor gave the M’s a chance with a lead-off single. It was the final pitch from the veteran left-hander. Buehrle (13-10, 3.39 ERA) was lifted by manager John Gibbons after allowing three hits and a walk in eight-plus frames. He struck out 10.

Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon sent out James Jones to pinch run for Taylor.  The speedy Jones immediately went to work attempting to steal. Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez was conscious of Jones’ large lead, and after one close pick-off attempt, nailed him on his second try. The pick-off eliminated any threat. Jackson and Dustin Ackley struck out and grounded out to end the game.

Disappointment could not be overstated for a Seattle squad that, despite a terrible September, still found itself in the race for a postseason berth.

The rookie’s first full season was interrupted by injury and poor command. The latter resulted in a month-long stint in Triple-A ,where he worked on pitching from the stretch to simplify his mechanics. After a stint in the bullpen, Walker has performed admirably filling in for the injured Roenis Elias, pitching to a 2.02 ERA over 13.2 innings.

Wednesday he showed the adjustment is working. He had excellent command of a fastball, changeup and curveball, thrown to all areas of the strike zone. His fastball reached 98 mph and was complemented by a 87-90 mph changeup with tremendous late movement. Of the four hits, none went for extra bases. The bloop off Goins’ bat advanced Toronto’s lone baserunner past first.

With four games remaining, Seattle must record a minimum of three wins and continue to get help to extend its season.

Notes

All three of Walker’s major league victories have come against the Houston Astros in eight career starts . . . Walker pitched 120.1 innings between the majors and minors in 2014 . . . Morrison made his seventh start in the outfield and saw his nine-game hitting streak come to an end.


YourThoughts

  • Bryan

    Great to see Walker pitch a good game. Huge for the Mariners. We need him to win a rotation spot and pan out next season. Aligning that kind of talent with King / Paxton / Iwakuma could produce the majors’ best rotation. Well, kinda like we had this year. But more permanently. Chris Young isn’t going to stay healthy, and Elias I’m not convinced is a long term answer. Thanks Art!

  • Kevin Lynch

    Houston….we have conclusion. Well, they played over the heads most of the year, getting the most from what they had. But mamma mia, in a pitcher’s park you’ve got to have guys take pitches, work the count, hit .260 for cryin’ out loud, with maybe a .320 OBP. They are finishing last in the league in OBP and OBS. No pitching is going to save you from that. And since they won’t trade Paxton or Walker they lack player chips to improve the hitting for next year.

    • RadioGuy

      You’ve touched on something I’ve said for years, but everyone wants the longball to bail them out while playing home games in a ballpark more conducive to Whitey Herzog than Earl Weaver.

    • Trygvesture

      You’re right of course, and right about what even the casual fan has known and seen in spades for this whole season and more. Which, if considered for the briefest moment, makes the Lincolnland FO somehow less adept than the casual fan at identifying the needs of the club, apparently. Or just so below minimum competency to run a ballclub that they can’t get within 400′ of filling those needs– or, more likely, they just continue to manage to equity appreciation, zero operating losses and no cash calls as their hallowed trinity in the Clownship Church of Lincolnland.
      Still.
      But, they gloat and reward themselves, pad their own futures and, born on first base, think they hit a triple… while the board twiddles their thumbs and counts their mounting equity payout that can’t, for the fans, come soon enough.

  • jafabian

    Well, they were in it until now. Can’t complain. Hopefully the team needs won’t be forgotten come the winter meetings.