HOUSTON — Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker has enjoyed a brief history of dominance over the Houston Astros, but his lingering health concerns might cloud his start against them on Tuesday night.
Walker (4-6, 3.29 ERA) has been battling right posterior tibial tendinitis for weeks, a condition that grew so severe in June that he departed starts at Tampa Bay on June 14 and at Boston five days later (despite tossing five scoreless innings) early due to discomfort.
He had his turn skipped in the rotation before returning last Thursday against Baltimore, against which he allowed one run on four hits with five strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.
Walker will make his 11th career start against the Astros, roughly one-fifth of his total number of starts. He is 5-2 with a 3.98 ERA against Houston, with 58 strikeouts in 52 innings. He has allowed two runs or less in six of his previous starts against the Astros and three runs or less in three others.
How effectively he pitches Tuesday night might have more to do with how Walker feels physically than anything the Astros can muster with a game plan.
“We'll see,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Walker and his condition. “It has crept up in every start, sometimes later in the starts, sometimes earlier. He has been able to manage it. He threw the ball very well the last time out. We're looking for the same thing (Tuesday).”
The Astros (44-39) will counter with ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel (5-9, 5.13 ERA), whose up-and-down season has included two starts against the Mariners (43-40) with a 0-1 record and 4.85 ERA.
Keuchel is 4-5 with a 3.09 ERA in 11 career appearances (10 starts) against Seattle. Given the Mariners' left-handed-leaning lineup (including regulars Seth Smith, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Adam Lind), Keuchel would seem perfectly positioned to enjoy a rebound.
Keuchel is 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA over his last two starts, outings that followed a solid performance against Cincinnati when he allowed two runs on five hits with six strikeouts over seven innings while getting a no-decision.
With six starts of at least seven innings on his ledger, Keuchel would serve Houston well to pitch efficiently. The Astros bullpen worked two scoreless innings on Monday in support of right-hander Lance McCullers and entered the Mariners series with the best ERA (2.54) in the American League since May 1.
Right-handers Luke Gregerson and Will Harris combined for two strikeouts while retiring the six batters they faced. If Keuchel hands the bullpen a lead late on Tuesday, the Astros will like their chances to win.
“This is what they do,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I had (right-hander Ken) Giles up in the seventh, Lance didn't need it as he got out of it. And then Gregerson's settled into the eighth-inning role. I feel confident that Luke could close any game and he probably will soon if Will needs a day off. Will continues to come in (and pitch well).”