The best fail too. For Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, that “failure” occurred in early August when he hit a bit of a wall, saw his command falter and his ERA spike.
It started July 25th. Facing a Tucson squad for the first time, Walker went just five innings, allowing five earned runs on six hits. He walked three and struck out eight. Aside from the strikeouts, those were numbers nobody who had watched Walker all season were accustomed to seeing.
The struggles continued over his next two outings. On July 30th, he lasted six innings but was hit the hardest he’d been all season, giving up nine hits and four runs. August 4th versus Iowa, Walker lasted just three innings but was tagged for seven hits and five runs (three earned).
He seemed to recover on the 10th against Albuquerque. There he went six innings, yielded five hits and three runs but got the win. Yet in his next start against Round Rock on the 15th, he struggled again, giving up five runs on four hits over 5 1/3 innings.
These struggles were atypical for a pitcher who was ranked as the top pitching prospect in baseball at the midseason point. That ranking was based largely off of first half numbers that saw him dominate the AA and AAA levels. Before being promoted from Jackson, Walker posted a 2.46 ERA in 14 starts and an opponent average of .195 in 84 innings. Then in his first three outings at Tacoma, Walker was 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings. He struck out 16 and walked five.
So it really was startling to see a pitcher who had largely been in command all season, face some adversity. Perhaps, it was a blessing in disguise. While Walker boasts a plus fastball and plus curveball, his command of the latter offering especially, has been subject at times this season. Unless he rectified that, the big leagues wouldn’t have been kind on Walker.
After that stretch of five starts where Walker wasn’t his sharpest, he has really recovered over his last two. In 11 total innings against Colorado and Tucson, Walker allowed nine hits, one run, walked six and struck out 15. In his last three starts, a stretch of 16 1/3 innings, Walker has struck out 24 hitters.
In total, Walker has pitched 141 1/3 innings this season, has a 2.93 ERA, a 160:57 strikeout to walk ratio and is holding opponents to a .217 average. One of the best stats for Walker this season has been his hits allowed. In over 140 innings, he’s only yielded 112 hits. That’s a mark that foretells future success as much as any other.
With about 20 innings left to pitch before he hits the innings limit imposed by team officials, it appears that Walker has faced his adversity and emerged as a better — and a smarter pitcher — because of it. If he is to make his professional debut in the next few weeks, it will be as a pitcher who is ready to handle the successes as well as the failures that the big leagues are likely to impart on a young pitcher.
Walker knows now, it’s not being knocked down, but how you get back up that ultimately determines greatness.