Taijuan Walker knows the Mariners are "right down the street." With domination like he displayed Tuesday for the Triple-A Rainiers, he'll be back with them sooner rather than later.
Seattle's top prospect dominated throughout his first complete-game shutout, scattering four hits and one walk while striking out eight over nine innings in Tacoma's 2-0 win over Oklahoma City at Cheney Stadium. The No. 5 prospect in baseball threw 75 of his 109 pitches for strikes while going the distance for the second time in his career.
"I've had games where I've had better stuff, but my curveball was the best it's been in a long time," Walker said. "I was throwing it for first-pitch strikes a lot. I was bouncing it when I needed to for strikeouts. Getting ground balls with it.
"But other than that, my fastball was good. I used my fastball a lot. And I just kind of pitched to contact and got the strikeouts when I needed them."
In his previous complete game on July 13, 2011, the 2010 first-rounder (43rd overall pick) allowed two runs over nine innings for Class A Clinton. He became the first Tacoma pitcher to throw a nine-inning shutout since southpaw James Paxton in Tucson last July 8.
Walker (2-1) gave up Domingo Santana's leadoff double in the second, a leadoff single to Enrique Hernandez in the fourth, Marc Krauss' two-out double in the seventh and a single to L.J. Hoes with one out in the ninth. Preston Tucker drew the lone walk to start the eighth.
The right-hander induced 12 groundouts and three flyouts while lowering his ERA to 4.11. Entering the game, that statistic stood at 5.82 following a difficult outing for the 21-year-old.
"It definitely helps after coming off last game," Walker said. "I only went five and kind of struggled the last game. Having this game right here after that, it definitely helps, definitely kind of shows that I can put that game behind me, bust my butt for the four days and then come out here and turn it around for the next start."
Against Colorado Springs last Thursday, Walker surrendered seven runs (six earned) over five innings, with seven hits -- including two homers -- one hit batsman, one walk and four strikeouts.
"I watched film and I wasn't using my legs at all and I wasn't getting on top of my pitches," he said. "So I really hammered that in between my starts and took that out to the mound and it helped."
The Louisiana native went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts with Seattle toward the end of last season, and he came into this year as a candidate for a spot in the starting rotation. A right-shoulder impingement doused those hopes, but he insists the injury is firmly in the rearview mirror.
"I can go out there and just throw the ball and not worry about having to feel any pain in the back of my head, not thinking about, 'Oh, if I throw a pitch, I might feel something,'" Walker said. "So it's nice just going out there and just throwing my pitches and feeling back to normal."
While normal is certainly a step in the right direction, Walker is anxious for more. He wants to get back on the mound at Safeco Field and is confident he has the ability to get there.
"You know, I try not to keep it in mind, but it's hard," he said. "It's hard because I've been up there and I know it's just right down the street. It's hard not to think about it, but I know I can't really think about it.
"I've got to worry about my next start, wherever it is. If it's here, I've got to worry about my next start here. I can't really look too far ahead. So I'm taking it one start at a time, and whenever they're ready, I'll make sure I'm ready."
Three rehabbing Mariners participated in the Rainiers' win, which completed a four-game sweep of the RedHawks. Justin Smoak went 1-for-4 with a run scored while Michael Saunders and Corey Hart went a combined 0-for-7 with five strikeouts and one walk. Hart was ejected by home-plate umpire Greg Stanzak after arguing a called third strike in the eighth.
Xavier Nady -- who signed a Minor League contract with Seattle on May 30 -- belted a two-run homer in the first inning.
David Martinez (5-5) allowed two runs on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts over seven innings.