The expectations placed on Taijuan Walker this year are sky high. After his first start where he gave up nine runs in three innings, all of us wanted to see the dominant pitcher we saw in Spring Training tonight. Under the bright lights of a National TV broadcast, amidst all the pomp and circumstance of Jackie Robinson Day, Taijuan wilted.
Right out of the gate, Walker was hitting 96 with his fastball and got Jimmy Rollins to strike out swinging on a high fastball. After a ground ball single, Walker was able to get a long fly out put the end of the first inning within reach. A walk, a single, and a double later and the score was 3-0. Despite the good velocity, it was clear that Walker didn’t have good command of his pitches. Here’s the strike zone plot for all of Taijuan’s pitches from the game:
That’s not a good look. There’s a huge gap at the bottom of the strike zone that should be peppered with pitches. Walker was leaving pitches up in the zone and he was punished for it. His secondary pitches were completely ineffective as well. All four of Taijuan’s walks came after he was able to work a full count. In each of those at bats, he went to his changeup or his cutter/slider but couldn’t get the pitch in the strike zone or induce a swing. Despite their ineffectiveness, Taijuan continued to turn to his secondary pitches and the Dodgers were feasting. After three innings, Walker had given up five runs and was pulled after the fourth.
Offensively, the Mariners were just as disappointing. The Mariners got on the board in the top of the fourth when Nelson Cruz hit his sixth homer in five days:
It’s absolutely unreal how easy Cruz’s power comes to him and he’s truly scary when he’s this locked in.
In the fifth, Mike Zunino actually made contact with the ball and led off with a ground-rule double. He would be thrown out at the plate two batters later after hesitating on a line drive up the middle off the bat of Justin Ruggiano. If Zunino had any awareness of where the infielders were playing, he’d know that it was a clear hit and probably would have scored easily. Instead, Rich Donnelly waved him home after waiting to see if the ball landed and he was cut down easily.
The biggest threat the Mariners mounted came in the sixth. The Mariners loaded the bases with no outs after an error, a Robinson Cano single, and a Nelson Cruz walk. They plated their second run when Kyle Seager grounded into a fielder’s choice, leaving runners on second and third. The next batter, Logan Morrison, walked on five pitches. But for some reason, Robinson Cano thought that he had been walked in. He started strolling down the line and the Dodgers catcher, probably stunned to see the running walking toward him, threw him out at third. It was a huge mental error from Cano and killed the rally the Mariners had started.
The rest of the game was pretty uneventful. The five runs the Dodgers scored in the first three innings were all they would need. The Mariners thankfully have an off day tomorrow as they fly back to Seattle to start a long homestand. They survived the hardest stretch of games this month by going 3-6. Now, they’ll face the Rangers twice, the Astros twice, and the Twins to finish out the month. Yes, this series sucked. But they’re just nine games into this season with a soft schedule ahead.