On the eve of the first major step in his return to the Seattle Mariners rotation, Taijuan Walker sat calm and relaxed. His excitement completely internal.
Walker, 21, has been sidelined the entire season with a right shoulder issue. During spring training it was stiffness, then as he neared a return in mid-April, he was scratched from his third rehab start with a shoulder impingement.
Now he gets another chance to take the hill in a competitive environment when he makes his first rehab start since April 10 with AAA Tacoma Wednesday.
“Oh yeah, I’m pumped. I’m ready to go,” Walker said sitting near his locker prior to Tuesday’s game against Los Angeles. “(I’m) just relaxing right now, getting everything right. It’s been awhile, so make sure I’m ready, relaxed and calm. Then just go out there (Wednesday) and pitch.”
His pending return — and that of left-hander James Paxton (lat strain) — is tremendously important for a Seattle (25-25) club that has seen No. 5 starter Brandon Maurer (1-3, 6.99 ERA) limp his way through six starts with the M’s. He’s been brutal and the team is dire need of any arm that can step into his spot and actually give them a decent opportunity to win every fifth day.
Walker can be that arm.
The right-hander went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts in September. He pitched 15 innings, allowed 11 hits, walked four and struck out 12. Over the offseason he was told he would compete in camp for a starting rotation job and that knowledge had him a little too amped. He over-prepared and ultimately came into camp with a tired arm.
He’s anxious to start his season. Show off an improved changeup, better command with his fastball and his cutter. So what are his expectations for Wednesday’s outing?
“To feel good,” said Walker. “Make sure there’s nothing wrong. Fastball command is there, I feel confident with all of my pitches and I just feel confident in myself.”
Walker will throw 70-75 pitches ideally, and work 4-5 innings depending on how things go. He said he’ll will bring his entire arsenal out on the mound with him, but will be primarily focused on the command of his fastball.
“I’ll be working with everything, but definitely fastball command. I just want to get my fastball established first, both sides of the plate, down in the zone,” said Walker. “Then once I do that I’ll be able to work off my fastball and throw my other pitches, my changeup, cutter and curveball. It all kinda works off of my fastball.”
It’s been awhile for him, nearly seven weeks, how confident is he in his command?
“It’s a little rusty here and there, but for the most part I feel like I’m ready to go. I feel like I can go out there and compete,” Walker said.
Seattle hopes he will be competing at the major league level soon.