When he faced the Houston Astros last week, Taijuan Walker historically closed an outing that led manager Scott Servais to proclaim he's “coming into his own.”
After getting a much-needed lighter workload, Walker hopes to give the Astros more trouble Friday night when the visiting Seattle Mariners chase their 13th win in 16 games.
Walker (2-1, 1.80 ERA) emerged as a promising second starter behind Felix Hernandez during one of the best Aprils in franchise history. The right-hander finished with a 1.44 ERA which was the second-best mark for a Seattle hurler with four or more starts.
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The 22-year-old capped it in style April 25 when he allowed one run and struck out a career high-tying 11 over seven innings in a 3-2 home win over Houston. He fanned the last six batters he faced to equal the second-most consecutive Ks by a Mariners pitcher.
After throwing 100, 108, 110 and a career-high 118 pitches in his first four outings, Walker finally showed some fatigue Sunday when he gave up three runs – two earned – and seven hits over five innings and 96 pitches in a 4-1 home loss to Kansas City.
“His last couple outings, we had extended him,” Servais said. “You're going to have to look at groups of three or four outings, what you're doing with guys.”
Walker hopes to be better rested as he tries to lead first-place Seattle (17-11) to a season-high fifth straight win. He's 5-1 with a 3.96 ERA in nine meetings with Houston (10-19).
Jason Castro is 1 for 13 with nine strikeouts versus Walker, while Carlos Correa has gone 1 for 8. Evan Gattis, however, is 5 for 14 with two home runs in the matchup, Jose Altuve has gone 8 for 22 with a long ball and Colby Rasmus is 5 for 13 with a homer.
Altuve is 7 for 9 with two home runs and two doubles in his last two games after matching a career high with four hits in Thursday's 6-3 series-opening defeat.
“He's a guy that anytime he swings you know something good is going to happen,” Robinson Cano said. “He's great.”
Former Seattle right-hander Doug Fister (2-3, 4.60) will try to help Houston avoid dropping three of the first five on its 10-game homestand. He was a lot sharper in Sunday's outing after he had issued a career-high seven walks while opposing Walker last week.
Fister allowed one run and only walked one over 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1 win at Oakland that snapped his personal three-game skid and gave him a 2.89 ERA in his last three starts.
“Without a doubt, his best stuff and aggressiveness,” manager A.J. Hinch told the league's official website.
Fister has gone 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in four career starts against the Mariners. Leonys Martin and Kyle Seager each took him deep last week, while Cano is 5 for 14 lifetime in the matchup and Nelson Cruz 8 for 25 with a home run and two doubles.
Cano stayed hot with three hits and four RBIs on Thursday. He's 12 for 22 over his last five games and Kyle Seager is 10 for 25 in his past six. The Mariners have batted .344 with six home runs while averaging 6.8 runs during their winning streak.
Cano is 18 for 42 with 18 RBIs over a 10-game hitting streak against the Astros.