Rainiers wunderkind Taijuan Walker took the same direct route to open his second start as he did his first.
Three fastballs. Three strikes. One out. Eat it.
Walker (2-0) went five innings and struck out eight Monday night in Tacoma’s 4-1 win over the oft-late-swinging Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
He has thrown 95 innings this season between Jackson and Tacoma. He threw 126 2/3 last season. Walker’s not counting, though the Mariners’ brass likely is.
“I’m just going to keep pitching until they stop me,” Walker said.
A self-imposed test came in the third for Walker during his 93-pitch outing. He walked lead-off hitter Tim Wheeler on four pitches. Walker paid him little attention, which provided Wheeler a gracious path when stealing second.
After walking Hernan Iribarren two batters later, Walker, 20, tussled with the Sky Sox’s No.3 hitter, Charlie Blackmon. Blackmon pushed the count full before striking out on a 90-mph cutter.
Both Sky Sox hits against Walker came off the bat of left-hander Ben Paulsen. The first a double to left-center, the hardest hit ball of the night against Walker, and the second a single through the right side.
Beyond that, Walker’s infield spent much of the hot evening at ease. With his fastball zipping along at 95 mph, Walker controlled the Sky Sox.
Walker’s cutter, changeup and curveball provided just enough scale-tipping. Those off-speed pitches existed more than dominated the game. They allowed Walker to be fastball heavy without punishment for the largely one-sided approach.
“Today was kind of a bad day for me,” Walker said. “Got away with it.”
He closed his outing with his eighth strikeout. After 11 innings over two Tacoma outings, Walker’s ERA is 0.00. He’s struck out 12, allowed five hits and walked four.
“When you look at the whole package: his body, his mind and his arm, you’re looking at a guy there that has a very high potential,” Tacoma manager John Stearns said.
It wasn’t just a strong night for Walker. Stefen Romero tilted the spotlight toward himself with an enviable all-around game.
Romero picked up hits to right, center and left. His fourth-inning double pushed home Carlos Triunfel for the Rainiers’ second run. Romero scored the Rainiers’ first run in the third.
His straight-line throw in the top of the eighth took a bounce before cutting down the tying run at the plate. Catcher Brandon Bantz corralled the throw and swung a tag into the charging Charlie Culberson. Culberson was irritated with the call. Bantz and the Rainiers trotted off with their narrow lead intact.
Bantz’s bouncer through a drawn-in infield drove in two runs in the eighth.