Walker sharp in rehab start for Mavericks

Mariners top prospect fans seven over 4 1/3 innings; Peterson homers

Taijuan Walker is expected to join the Mariners rotation by the end of April. (Mike Andruski/MiLB.com)

By Robert Emrich / MiLB.com | April 5, 2014 2:16 AM

Mavericks fans got to see something they'd never seen before on Friday night: an appearance by Taijuan Walker.

The Mariners' top prospect struck out seven while allowing two runs -- one earned -- on four hits over 4 1/3 innings in a rehab start as Class A Advanced High Desert rallied past Inland Empire, 5-4.

Walker walked one batter and faced five over the minimum in his first-ever California League start. He gave up a two-out single in the first inning to Cal Towey, who scored on a double by Brian Hernandez to give the 66ers a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Towey tripled home Sherman Johnson, who reached on an error by right fielder Gabriel Guerrero.

"He threw well, he looked sharp, he looked strong," Mavericks pitching coach Andrew Lorraine said. "His command is still getting there, but he's a heckuva athlete and he finds ways to get things done."

Walker exited after retiring the leadoff man in the fifth with his pitch count at 75. After throwing 60 pitches in Arizona in his last start, the Mariners bumped up his limit. Lorraine said that limit likely will increase his next time out.

"I think he should be out there again on Wednesday," Lorraine added. "I think he's ready for more, but that's not my decision. You don't push it too much when guys are getting it stretched out for the first part of the spring. I think he's ready for 85 or 90 [pitches], but I'll wait to see what happens."

Walker is back in the Minor Leagues after suffering from inflammation in his pitching shoulder during Spring Training. It was expected that the 21-year-old right-hander would open the year in Seattle's rotation. If his rehab goes well, he should rejoin the big league club at the end of the month.

A four-year Minor League veteran, Walker skipped over the California League, going straight to Double-A in 2012 after a successful campaign for Class A Clinton. Last season, the Louisiana native was 9-10 with a 2.93 ERA in 25 starts, striking out 160 batters over 141 1/3 innings. MLB.com's No. 6 overall prospect made three starts for the Mariners, winning one and compiling a 3.60 ERA.

Lorraine worked with Walker in 2010 in the Arizona League, so Friday was a reunion of sorts. The former Major League southpaw was quick to note that Walker is still very young.

"He's come a long way from three years ago," he said. "It's easy to forget he's a young kid and he's still learning stuff and he's an amazing athlete."

D.J. Peterson, the Mariners' second-ranked prospect, slugged a two-run homer and singled, while Steve Baron was 2-for-2 with a solo shot and scored the winning run on Brock Hebert's ninth-inning triple.

Matt Brazis (1-0) got the win, despite allowing two runs on two hits over two innings.

Starter Kyle McGowin (0-1) yielded a run on four hits and fanned four over five frames but did not figure in the decision for Inland Empire. Jairo Diaz was tagged with the loss after giving up one run on three hits in one inning.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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