Top Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker knows the decision whether he will pitch in the Majors again this season is out of his hands, but he's trying to have a say his way -- on the mound.
Walker struck out a career-high 13 batters while allowing one run over seven innings in the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers' 2-1 win over the Fresno Grizzlies. Ranked seventh among MLB.com's Top 100 prospects, the 6-foot-4 right-hander yielded two hits and a walk, throwing 71 of 101 pitches for strikes at Cheney Stadium.
It was an impressive rebound for the the Louisiana native, who gave up eight runs on eight hits and a walk while failing to make it out of the third inning in a loss to Albuquerque last Saturday.
"It was good, definitely better than the last one," said Seattle's top prospect. "I needed a game like that to bounce back from the last one. This was one of those games you can build back up from. It was huge, you always want to have a good game after a rough one. You just have to take it day by day and focus on the next start."
Walker (5-3) gave up a leadoff double to Gary Brown, who advanced to third on Darren Ford's sacrifice bunt and scored on Mark Minicozzi's RBI single to center field. After that, he cruised, retiring 17 in a row and 20 of the final 21.
Seattle's Pitcher of the Year in 2011 struck out the side in the second and seventh, fanned two in the third and fifth and recorded one strikeout in the first, fourth and sixth.
It marked Walker's sixth career game with at least 10 strikeouts, and it was the fourth time he has pitched at least seven innings with two hits or fewer. He topped his previous high of 12 punchouts, set in Double-A Jackson's 5-2 win over Mobile last June 20.
His 13 whiffs were the most recorded by a Rainiers pitcher since Rich Dorman struck out 14 batters against Salt Lake on Aug. 29, 2006. Tacoma ended the game with a season-high 17 strikeouts after Lucas Luetge fanned four batters over the final two perfect innings.
"The biggest thing was throwing my curveball for strikes," said Walker, who turns 22 on Wednesday. "That was the biggest thing. That helped my fastball out. I threw my changeup when I had to and my cutter when I had to.
"Having two good pitches kept them off balance. In the bullpen, I felt really good. Coming out, I felt like my arm felt good and my pitches felt good. Last time I didn't have my curveball working for me and that was the biggest part of it today."
Selected by the Mariners 43rd overall in the first round of the 2010 Draft, Walker is 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA in three Major League starts this season. He hopes to get another shot in Seattle down the stretch.
"If I keep pitching like this [the chances] are pretty good, but it's out of my control," Walker said about another promotion. "Focus on what I can control and keep on pitching. Just go out and pitch and attack hitters and keep the walks down. If they call me up, they do."