Taijuan Walker dominates in Tacoma, return may be near

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Erasmo Ramirez might have made his last start.

Erasmo Ramirez has not allowed a run in his past 9 2/3 innings. He's done so by completely changing the kind of pitcher he's usually been, demonstrating fairly terrible control but an ability to leave the ball out of the middle of the plate. Nine strikeouts and nine walks over his last two appearances, and a .900 OPS allowed over his last three. That's how bad Ramirez was against Atlanta. But still, Ramirez has limited damage by refusing to leave the ball over the heart of the plate, something that I remarked feels like an intentional change after Rick Waits visited the mound time after time during Ramirez's June 9th start.

Despite Erasmo being shaky and wild since his recall, the Mariners have won two of his last three starts, and nearly managed to win another one last night. But he's still an obvious upgrade piece on this roster, while James Paxton continues to attempt to recover and Taijuan Walker keeps shaking off the rust in AAA. Walker has slowly been taking steps forward, as his velocity took a bit to return. But his effectiveness started to follow with a solid two-run performance last week in which he allowed two solo homers. Last night, Walker put it all together, and it looks like he might be ready to finally take his place in the Mariners rotation.

Walker didn't allow a single hit until the seventh inning, eventually getting charged with an earned run after he loaded the bases for Stephen Pryor at 94 pitches. Walker finally coughed up a single and two walks, and then Pryor allowed a run to score on a wild pitch before ending the damage. Walker struck out seven and walked three.

But more important than the result was his stuff, which was reportedly electric, via Mike Curto's blog. Mike passes along that Walker was dominant, using his change with great success against Nashville's lefty-heavy lineup. Additionally, 94 pitches is a good indication that Walker's return is near, and it appears that he made it out without setbacks. We'll see if 94 pitches, even with Walker running out of gas after 80, is enough to make the move.

Erasmo Ramirez is scheduled to go again on Thursday, but it wouldn't be surprising if Walker replaced him. The Mariners might give Walker one more go-around in Tacoma to assure health and stamina, but the most important thing is already taken care of. Walker was optioned back to AAA after his rehab not because he wasn't healthy, but because he needed to get good again. Last night, he was very, very good.  At the same time, this new, wild Erasmo Ramirez is sort-of getting the job done, but the Mariners should be thankful for almost winning all three games he started since replacing Brandon Maurer. As the team crumbles back to .500, upgrades are desperately needed, and so is Taijuan Walker.

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