Walker impresses in Triple-A debut

Mariners top prospect allows three hits in six shutout innings

Taijuan Walker still leads the Southern League with 96 strikeouts. (Tacoma Rainiers)

By Robert Emrich and Josh Jackson / Special to MLB.com | June 25, 2013 10:43 PM ET

For Pacific Coast League hitters, there's bad news and there's ... more bad news.

Taijuan Walker has arrived. And he didn't need to have everything working for him to pitch six scoreless innings in his Triple-A debut.

"I feel like my fastball command could be a little bit better. That, and my cutter," he said. "I didn't really have my cutter at all tonight. That's one of my key pitches."

The Mariners' top prospect gave up three hits, walked two batters and struck out four to earn the win Tuesday night as Tacoma blanked Fresno, 1-0, at Cheney Stadium.

Even without every weapon in his arsenal, Walker impressed Rainiers veteran catcher Jason Jaramillo.

"I've had the opportunity to be around a lot of special pitchers, but tonight you got to see one of the really good ones," he told the Seattle Times. "He's got the composure, he's got the stuff, he's got the talent; he's really blessed. Just being around him a couple of days now, he's special."

Walker spent the first 2 1/2 months of the season in the Southern League, going 4-7 with a 2.46 ERA and a league-leading 96 strikeouts in 14 games for Double-A Jackson. In his final start for the Generals on Thursday, he fanned a career-high 12 against Mobile.

Against the Giants' top Minor League affiliate, Walker threw 56 of 87 pitches for strikes. And although he set down seven straight Grizzlies in one stretch, he could immediately see a difference between the two levels.

"The hitters are a lot more patient and they put the ball in play a lot more," he said. "They don't miss fastballs. But, I mean, it's still the same game. I'm still just trying to execute pitches. I'm not trying to change anything."

The 20-year-old right-hander encountered a little trouble in his final inning when he issued a two-out walk to Johnny Monell.

"He was just being patient," Walker said. "I feel like he wasn't being too aggressive. He took some really good pitches and I walked him."

Brett Pill followed with a single to put the tying run in scoring position, but Walker was unfazed.

"It was a fastball down," he said. "I got a grounder, but it just got through the hole."

The Louisiana native got Roger Kieschnick to ground out to end the threat -- and his night.

Walker joined the Rainiers on Sunday, giving him some time to get acclimated to his new environment.

"It's been a couple days. Things have been going really good," he said. "It gave me the chance to get used to the time difference and the weather. The weather is really different here."

And after Walker's start, so was the climate at Cheney Stadium.

"To think he's here doing this at age 20, at this level, you can really fantasize about what's going to happen in the future with him," Tacoma manager John Stearns told the newspaper. "It was really one of the most incredible, really impressive performances, and showed the maturity of him; his baseball IQ maturity at a young age was just tremendous."

Josh Kinney took over for Walker and tossed a perfect seventh. Bobby LaFromboise was flawless over the final two frames to earn his third save.

Abraham Almonte, who spent five weeks with Walker at Jackson, hit a solo homer in the fifth to provide all of the offense. Mariners No. 6 prospect Brad Miller singled in the fifth to extend his hitting streak to 21 games.

As for Walker, he's already looking forward to his next start.

"Hopefully, I'll have my cutter back then," he said.

Robert Emrich and Josh Jackson are contributors to MLB.com. Follow Robert 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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