Despite a less-than-ideal final pitching line, right-hander Taijuan Walker took another step toward the big leagues Thursday, showing progress in a few key areas en route to three great innings, one awful one and one so-so one. At the end of the night, he fanned eight and allowed five runs.
Walker dominated the first three innings and flashed a plus curveball, perhaps the best two I’ve ever seen him throw, to compliment his 88-91 mph cutter and four-seam fastball that teased 97 and sat 92-96.
The bad inning came in the fourth when Walker was up in the zone and lost some balance in his delivery. He hung a curveball that was hit out by former Mariners farmhand Mike Wilson in the third and then gave up several singles in the fourth that led to four more runs. He never lost his cool, however, and fought through some command issues in the fifth to get through the inning unscathed.
Long ball aside, the curveball was better for the most part; he’s had a tendency to telegraph the pitch some, something he didn’t do in this start, and he also flashed a couple of solid changeups to left-handed batters.
In the fifth, after issuing two walks and getting two outs, Walker worked Brandon Allen to a 2-2 count and struck him out on a hard changeup.
Note: I had originally labeled the 2-2 pitch to Allen a cutter, but Walker alerted me that it was a hard change.
Walker showed maturity, a better curveball and the same fastball life and use of his cutter that suggests he’s going to be very good, very soon. He had the bad inning — it happens, and he hadn’t had a hiccup in any of his first four starts in Triple-A — but there were still reasons to love what taking place at Cheney Stadium.
Walker is likely to make his big-league debut next month.
Tucson left-hander Robbie Erlin made the start for the Padres Thursday. He sat 88-90 with his fastball, throwing from a high three-quarters arm slot but creating some arm side run that was effective versus right-handed batters. His curveball, clocked in the 72-75 mph range, showed well above average break, but he didn’t have good command of it in this start.
Erlin’s best pitch was his 80-84 mph changeup, which he threw for called strikes and induced a few swings and misses. His fastball command did him in versus Tacoma, who stacked nine right-handed batters against him, which can be counterproductive versus a changeup left-hander.
Erlin looked like a back-end starter Thursday, but if there’s a firmer fastball in that arm, he possesses the delivery and secondary stuff to be a solid No. 4 as early as 2014.
Stefen Romero is figuring out left field fairly well, showing better reads on fly balls and better routes to the ball. His arm is fringe-average, but he threw a perfect strike to the place twice Thursday on single to left … Abraham Almonte is a popular question for me on Twitter because he’s putting up solid numbers. He’s a below-average defender in center — perhaps passable, though — but runs well (low 4’s up the line including 3.55 on a drag bunt earlier this homestand), which qualifies as 65 or 70 grade speed. He’s a decent switch hitter, but has well below average power and profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder … Rehabbing big leaguer Franklin Gutierrez appears 100 percent healthy and is swinging a solid bat for Tacoma. He may not be activated anytime real soon, but he’s closer to being ready at the plate than Michael Morse … Morse’s timing is still way off, suggesting the long layoff has reverted him back to spring training. He needs a few more days, based on what I saw Thursday … Stephen Pryor threw Wednesday and topped out at 90 mph. I’m told that was by design, however, as he’s working through some mild soreness in his right triceps and was just working on his command. He did show off the curveball and slider. He’s still a little ways away … Carter Capps is commanding his fastball — he went Thursday and looked solid — but his breaking ball, as expected, will need more time. He’ll be back in September.