By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Taijuan Walker can throw a baseball with more velocity than almost anyone in the Mariners organization.
But even he knows it doesn’t matter how hard you throw if the hitter knows what’s coming. Big league hitters can hit fastballs — no matter how hard they are thrown.
Walker’s outing on Monday was a reminder of that.
The Mariners prized pitching prospect struggled in his third appearance of the spring, giving up three runs in his second inning of work during Seattle’s 16-6 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Peoria Stadium.
Walker entered the game in the third and made quick work of the Rockies with a 1-2-3 inning.
But in the fourth inning, he wasn’t quite as sharp. He left a first-pitch fastball up in the zone to Nolan Arenado, who ripped a solo homer to left-center.
“I was looking for a first pitch fastball,” Arenado said.
Walker bounced back by striking out Tyler Colvin. However, trouble ensued as he walked D.J. LeMahieu and then allowed three straight singles to score two more runs.
“I just wasn’t locating my fastball,” Walker said. “I wasn’t putting it where I wanted and was getting behind in counts. They just jumped on the fastball.”
Walker appeared to catch a break when catcher Kelly Shoppach threw out Eric Young Jr. at second on his stolen base attempt for the second out of the inning. But the third out took work. Walker walked two straight batters to put himself in more trouble.
He finally got the third out when Michael Cuddyer grounded out to first to end the inning.
Besides his lack of fastball command, Walker struggled with his curve ball. He threw four in the game and none of them went for strikes. Hitters began to adjust.
“Anyone can hit a fastball if they see it constantly,” he said. “I have to keep working ahead in the counts and get my off-speed pitches over for strikes.”
Walker threw 42 pitches with just 22 strikes. He was charged with three earned runs on four hits with three walks.
“We left him out there to get through it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It should have been a good learning moment for him.”
Walker finished the day, giving up the three runs on four hits with two walks in his two innings of work.
“He’s very fluid,” Wedge said. “He’s very easy with his delivery. The ball jumps out of his hand. But he’s still a young pitcher working to get better.”
Garland gets it done
Jon Garland’s road back to the big leagues continues to be unencumbered. The veteran right-hander pitched two shutout innings in his second appearance this spring. It’s not to say the innings were easy.
Garland walked the first hitter of the game — something that irked him greatly.
“I walked the fastest guy in the building,” Garland said. “You are just giving them an opportunity to start something in the first inning and bury your guys a little bit.”
He also a hit, but got a pair of key ground balls to get out of the inning.
In his second inning of work, he gave up a lead-off double to Colvin. But Garland worked his way out of the inning without allowing Colvin to score.
“I’m still keeping the ball down,” he said. “If they are hitting the ball on the ground, and the ball is moving and missing the bat in the right places, I can’t be too upset.”
The dry Arizona air doesn’t make it easy for Garland to get his pitches to move with its normal action.
“It’s hard to get a true feel out here because you breaking ball isn’t going to break as much,” he said. “With that thin air and you can’t really grip it as well, but it’s starting to feel a little more comfortable each time.”
The biggest thing is that nothing is bothering Garland’s surgically repaired throwing shoulder.
If I’m able to throw the next day, I consider it feeling good,” he said. “So we are doing good.”
The Mariners announced that Felix Hernandez will start Thursday’s split squad game against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. It will be his first Cactus League appearance this spring. … Former Mariner great Jay Buhner arrived in Peoria and was in uniform for Monday’s game. Buhner does some work with outfielders while in camp. … Buhner’s close buddy Ken Griffey Jr. will arrive in the next day or two. Griffey also does some coaching with the minor league players. … Mariners minor league players not invited to big league camp reported to Peoria, meaning over 150 players are now occupying the seven fields at the complex.