SEATTLE – In the search to find the best version of himself on the mound, Taijuan Walker went back to the basics of baseball-throw the ball hard, throw the ball for strikes.
It wasn’t a complicated game plan. Challenge, attack, compete . then repeat.
This version of Walker pumped his mid 90s fastball and dominated hitters, looking similar to what Seattle Mariners fans remember from the second half of last season, and nothing like the Walker of his past seven outings.
The results followed as the Mariners won 5-0 over Cleveland on Wednesday night at Safeco Field.
It was the second straight win over the American League Central-leading Indians for the Mariners, who improved to 33-26.
Walker pitched eight shutout innings, giving up three hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts (tying a career high), snapping a string of seven starts without a win, including six losses, to improve to 3-6 on the season.
Perhaps the only other player in similar need of a bounce-back game like Walker was the man who provided the bulk of the run support. Catcher Chris Iannetta had three extra base hits in three at-bats, driving in four runs to have his best game in a Mariners’ uniform.
Iannetta crushed a pair of a homers off Indians’ starter Carlos Carrasco-a two-run blast in the third inning and a solo homer into the left field upper deck in the fourth-in his first two at-bats for his second multihomer game of his career.
In the seventh inning with Ketel Marte on third base and facing reliever Zach McAllister, Iannetta doubled over the head of center fielder Rajai Davis. It was just the second time in his career he had three extra base hits in a game.
After a costly error in Monday night’s loss, Iannetta had Tuesday’s game off. But he still put in extensive work on his off day, practicing throws at home plate-the play he botched.
He’d also been trying to climb his way out of an ugly slump. He endured a 4-35 stretch in May, but now has 10 hits in his last eight games.
It was more than enough run support for Walker, who was still throwing 97 mph in the eighth inning. His final pitch-an elevated 95 mph fastball-struck out Michael Martinez to tie his career high in strikeouts in a game.
That Walker’s win came against the Indians may have been beneficial. Walker has dominated the Indians over the last two seasons-a 3-0 record.
With a lively fastball that started out at 95 mph, touched 97 and stayed in that range over his eight innings, Walker got ahead of hitters and put them away.
He didn’t allow a base runner until Rajai Davis led off the fourth inning with a single. Jason Kipnis followed with a single to cause some minor problems. They magnified when Walker was called for a balk with two outs, moving both runners into scoring position.
But while clearly miffed at himself, Walker didn’t let the miscue derail his outing. He pumped a 97 mph fastball past a swinging Lonnie Chisenhall to end the threat.
That was the only time a Cleveland player reached third base against Walker.
It was the fourth solid start for Mariners’ starting pitchers after a brutal stretch of inconsistency. In the last four starts of Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Wade Miley and Walker, they’ve pitched a combined 28 innings, allowing two earned runs on 16 total hits with 31 strikeouts and four walks.
Seattle tacked on another run in the eighth inning on a Kyle Seager ground ball to third that scored Seth Smith to make it 5-0.
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