Zoning in on Taijuan Walker

ZoningIn20_Walker

Zoning in on the 2016 Mariners is a daily series in which we’ll examine one player every day, 30 total, in the lead-up to Opening Day. We’ll explain their role on the field, what they’re like off of it and provide highlights and photos. On deck tomorrow: Seth Smith.

There are a lot of people looking for big things from Taijuan Walker in 2016. You won’t find one of those preseason lists of potential breakout stars without the 23-year-old’s name on it. But as the talk swirls, Walker isn’t getting caught up in it.

““It’s always compete mode,” Walker said heading into Spring Training. “At any given time, someone can come and take your spot. In baseball, you’re never safe. You really have to go in every year with (the approach) that you’re competing for your spot.”

Walker, who completed his first full season with the Mariners last year after stints in 2013 and 2014, went a long way towards earning his spot with what the way he finished 2015. It’s the same reason media members are looking for a big season from him this coming year.

After a tough start to the campagin—especially tough following a dominant spring—Walker was locked in. Over his last 20 starts, he went 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA.

What happened? What change did he make?

“Just being aggressive and really trusting my stuff,” he said in speaking on the Cactus League Report. “I stopped walking people, that was the biggest thing. I went right after people and tried to get early outs.”

That efficiency wasbig, and the way Walker controlled the strike zone especially key. Over those finally 20 starts, starting with eight innings of two-hit ball on May 29th, Walker struck out 118 batters and walked only 17.

In another noticeable development, Walker also slightly altered his pitch mix, adding more of his curveball to the barrage of fastballs and changeups.

Here, from Brooks Baseball, is a look at how frequently he used his curveball, broken down by month.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

“I really realized it’s going to really help my changeup and fastball a lot, just mixing in a breaking ball,” he said speaking recently on his best start of 2015, a complete game one-hitter in Minnesota in which he struck out a career-high 11. “They were really out in front of that, kind of sped them up a bit so they really couldn’t catch up to the fastball. All I had to do was show my curveball, just to keep them off the fastball and changeup.”

It’s a pitch he’s actually been working on here in Spring Training with fellow starters James Paxton and Nathan Karns, both of whom deploy the curve as a go-to pitch.

It’s just another thing to watch with Walker as we head into what’s sure to be an interesting year for him.

Off the Field

An impressive athlete now and before, Walker was a star in both baseball and basketball in high school. Even after giving up the sport, he showed he still has the ability do a few things on the court.

Basketball isn’t the only sport besides baseball where he has some skills, either.

Outside of golf, he also spends downtime with his two French Bulldogs, Nala and Kiki.

Walker’s mother, Nellie, battled breast cancer, getting the diagnosis in 2012. It’s something that brought things into perspective for Taijuan—and brings extra meaning to the annual Mothers Day games.

Highlights

 

 

 

 

Photos

More in the Zoning In on the 2016 Mariners Series:

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