Taijuan Walker Wins Final Spot in Mariners’ Rotation


The Seattle Mariners optioned Roenis Elias to minor league camp on Sunday morning, effectively ending the competition between Elias and Taijuan Walker for the final spot in the M’s rotation. In truth, Walker was so dominant this spring that it was inevitable he would find his way into the starting rotation.

We have heard so much about Taijuan Walker over the past few years; it is hard to believe this will be the first time he heads north with the Mariners for opening day. However, based on the way he has pitched in the Cactus League, the powerful right-hander will be a mainstay in the Emerald City for years to come.

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To say Tai has been great this spring would be an unforgivable understatement. If they handed out Cy Young Awards for spring training, Tai Walker would be at the top of the list. He has hurled 18 consecutive shutout innings to start the spring, and he has been nearly unhittable. He has posted 19 strikeouts, and has issued just 4 walks. He has held the opposition to an incredible 0.556 walks/hits per inning. Walker has demonstrated great command of all his pitches, and has consistently gotten ahead early in the count.

Many of us thought 2014 would be the breakthrough season for the gifted 22-year-old, but injuries and mechanical problems led to a disappointing year. Walker was injured last spring, and did not make his Mariners’ debut until June 30. Walker finished the season with a 2-3 record, and a 2.61 ERA across 38 innings pitched. His low ERA masks many of his struggles, as he spent much of the summer pitching for the Tacoma Rainiers due to his inability to throw strikes with Seattle.

Tai Walker struggled to locate his fastball, and proved ineffective. I was in attendance when he pitched against the New York Mets on July 23. His immense potential was hard to ignore, but it was obvious he was not quite mature enough to handle the bright lights of Safeco Field. However, after overhauling his windup in Tacoma, Walker looked much better in September. Walker went 1-1 with a 1.96 ERA across 23 innings during the final month of the season. His revamped delivery led to a superb performance against the Toronto Blue Jays, in which he took a hard luck loss after pitching 8 shutout innings.

The Yucaipa, CA product has carried over last season’s impressive finish to spring training this year. His incredible performance in Arizona has made Lloyd McClendon’s decision an easy one. However, Bob Dutton of The News Tribune is reporting that the Mariners are looking into employing a modified 6-man rotation this season. Roenis Elias would presumably serve as the 6th man.

Roenis Elias was a revelation with the Mariners in 2014. Despite never pitching above double-A prior to last season, Elias put together a quality rookie campaign. The 26-year-old southpaw went 10-13 with a 3.85 ERA across 29 outings. He struck out 143 hitters, and walked 64 across 163.1 innings pitched. He too struggled at times getting his fastball across for strikes, but his 2.23 strikeout to walk ratio was quite respectable.

Aug 7, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Roenis Elias (29) throws against the Chicago White Sox during the fourth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

However, things have not gone according to plan for the Guantanamo native this spring. Elias is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA over the course of 14.2 innings. Elias has tallied 8 strikeouts, but has issued 7 walks. Obviously, his 1.14 strikeout to walk ratio is not what he or the Mariners were hoping for in spring training. Elias will begin the season in Tacoma, and hopefully he will regain his confidence pitching against weaker competition. McClendon is high on the young man, and he could be back in Seattle before the end of April if he excels with the Rainiers.

On the surface having a 6-man rotation seems strange, but in reality, it makes perfect sense for Seattle. The Mariners are banking on big years from youngsters James Paxton and Tai Walker. However, both pitchers are coming off injury plagued seasons that saw them pitch just 112.0 innings combined for the Mariners in 2014. The M’s will have to manage Walker and Paxton’s innings carefully in order to preserve them for October. Having an arm like Elias to make spot starts and give their arms a rest would be a wise decision. The Mariners are incredibly lucky to have so many viable arms at their disposal.

Taijuan Walker will get the ball for the Seattle Mariners Monday afternoon in Peoria against the Los Angeles Angels. The game will be televised locally on Root Sports Northwest, so there is no excuse not to tune in! First pitch is set for 1:05 PST.

Next: Seattle Mariners Game Recap: J.A. Happ Gets Roughed Up Again

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