The young phenom that many of the 36,224 spectators at Safeco Field came to see make his 2014 home debut on a rain-soaked Wednesday afternoon stood in front of his locker. Taijuan Walker spoke about incremental improvements as he prepared to make the short trek down Interstate 5 to Tacoma, to where he was optioned shortly after a 3-2 loss to the Mets.
“It was a step in the right direction,” Walker said after Seattle (53-48) dropped its eighth in the past 12. “The fastball command was better. Late in the game it wasn’t, but (I) battled and kept the team in it as much as I could.”
The outing had the familiar ups and downs of his season.
With Walker making his first start since he languished through four innings July 7 against the White Sox, the Mets sent six men to the plate in the first inning and scored one run on a Daniel Murphy RBI double.
For the next 3.2 innings, Walker (1-2, 3.60 ERA) relaxed, showing the mid-90’s fastball and effective curveball that led to his high preseason ranking among major-league prospects, and has him in high demand this time of year. Scouts were in attendance as well as Walker’s mother.
He struck out four while facing the minimum 11 batters over the stretch. But then a 94 mph fastball rode up and in on Ruben Tejada, drilling him in the helmet and knocking him to the dirt where he lay for about a minute. Tejada rose and walked off on his own to the Mets clubhouse.
But Walker wasn’t the same. He walked the next hitter before securing a ground out to end the inning. In the sixth, leadoff hitter David Wright blooped a single over the head of first baseman Logan Morrison and Walker walked the next two hitters on nine pitches. With the bases loaded and none out, manager Lloyd McClendon relieved his young prodigy in favor of Dominic Leone.
“He was OK,” McClendon said of Walker. “Command of the fastball has to get better, we talked to him about it.”
His manager thought hitting Tejada affected Walker.
“I’m sure it did,” McClendon said. “It would rattle any young pitcher.”
Leone allowed a sacrifice fly before escaping the jam. In the seventh inning, David Wright put the Mets up 3-0 with an RBI single.
On the other end, the wily veteran Bartolo Colon was sharp. For 6.2 innings in fact, Colon was perfect. Twenty batters up, 20 batters retired without so much as a challenging play. But Robinson Cano delivered a single to left to prevent history.
In the eighth, the Mariners scratched two runs across. Corey Hart opened with a walk and after Dustin Ackley singled with one out, Brad Miller laced a double off the right-center fence, inches shy of a game-tying homer.
The double scored Hart and left Seattle with runners on second and third with one out. Willie Bloomquist, pinch-hitting for catcher Jesus Sucre, hit a slow ground out to short to score Ackley. Mets’ reliever Jeurys Familia, sporting a 1.94 ERA, struck out Endy Chavez to end the M’s only threat.
Though not sharp of late, the 41-year-old Colon once again found himself right at home in Safeco Field where he settled in like an old man into his favorite tweed suit.
“This guy knows how to pitch,” McClendon said of Colon. “Check the resume, he’s pretty good.”
That resume McClendon spoke of showed Colon with a career 12-1 record and 2.10 ERA in 14 starts in the Mariners’ home park. He improved on those numbers Wednesday against a Mariners squad that has scored 37 runs in its last 16 games.
“Back in the day, when he threw hard, everything was fastball in the middle of the plate,” Cano said. “Now it’s a different guy that moves the ball both sides and has a pretty good changeup . . . We’ve just got to turn the page and just move on.”
Walker will head down to Tacoma where an uncertain future awaits.
“One thing we have to remember is this young man is 21 years old,” McClendon said. “Most 21-year-olds are still in college.
“Pitching at this level is hard enough, when you are starting to think about mechanical things, it’s just not a good combination,” McClendon said. “He’s got to get to the point where everything is working naturally for him. But he’s a very talented individual . . . He’s going to be alright in the very near future.”
And how does Walker handle the up and down shuttling that he’s had to endure over the last five weeks?
“Better now,” Walker said. “At first it was tough, but I know there’s things I need to work on and I’d rather come up here at my best.”
Eric Campbell replaced Tejada in the fifth inning and remained in the game at shortstop . . . Mariners’ LHP James Paxton came away healthy and pleased with his three-inning minor-league rehab outing for Tacoma. Paxton gave up three runs on three hits, including two home runs and struck out four on 60 pitches. He will pitch again for Tacoma Sunday . . . LF Dustin Ackley extended his hitting streak to six games. He is hitting .458 (11-for-15) in that stretch.