Taijuan Walker could have been a part of Seattle’s rotation all along had he not reported to spring training with an injury that ultimately resulted in him beginning the season in the minors.
Now in his third stint with the big club, the Mariners’ top prospect is getting another shot during the heat of a playoff race.
Walker will make his first start in nearly two months as Seattle opens a three-game road set with the Houston Astros on Friday night.
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The 22-year-old is considered one of baseball’s top young arms, and though he didn’t make the team out of camp, Walker (1-2, 2.96 ERA) posted a 3.60 ERA in three starts in two separate stints with Seattle from June 30-July 23.
He has a 1.93 ERA in three relief appearance since being recalled Sept. 1, but he’s getting another chance to start due to Roenis Elias’ elbow injury that likely will sideline him for the rest of the season.
Walker flew to Houston on Thursday to get some extra rest in preparation for this outing.
"With the concerns we have with Elias, it’s an opportunity for (Walker) to step up and move into the rotation," manager Lloyd McClendon told MLB’s official website. "I think in a lot of ways it’s a real good experience for him. Obviously this has been a tough year for him in a lot of different ways. I think he’s starting to grow up a little bit from a mental standpoint and starting to ‘get it’, so to speak. This is good for him."
The right-hander has made half of his six career starts against the Astros, going 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA. He allowed three runs in five innings of a 10-4 victory in his season debut in Houston.
This contest will have much more significance, as Seattle (82-70) pulled to within one game of Oakland for the second wild card with Thursday’s 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
Logan Morrison broke a scoreless tie with a three-run homer in the ninth before Fernando Rodney picked up his 46th save.
”Words can’t describe that feeling,” Morrison said. ”I just know we’re in a race, and we need every hit we can get. We need every run we can get. We need ever win we can get. We’ve had some offensive struggles lately, but we’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t know how to quit.”
The Mariners have scored three runs or fewer in five of their last six and may face another tough task with a healthy Brad Peacock taking the mound for Houston.
Peacock (4-8, 4.80) is 1-0 with a 1.66 ERA over his last four starts, most recently striking out six in five scoreless innings of Houston’s 4-1 loss to the Mariners on Sept. 8. He was scratched from Monday’s scheduled start with back soreness but now appears ready to go.
"It’s just sore," Peacock said earlier in the week. "It’s been just kind of there my past couple starts and hasn’t been feeling too good."
Before that outing against the Mariners, the right-hander was 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA in his first two starts versus Seattle this season and has a 5.94 ERA in seven career matchups.
Peacock looks to help the Astros (67-86) bounce back after they fell 2-1 in 13 innings to Cleveland on Thursday. Houston scored three times while dropping the final three of the four-game set.
Jose Altuve went 0 for 6 in the finale after batting .500 during a seven-game hitting streak that began in a 5-2 win over Seattle on Sept. 10.