Tonight’s the night. Most of us have seen the young man pitch before; eagerly glued to our place of viewing for a major league debut against the Astros back in 2013. 70 pitches, and five innings later it was over. Hope sprang eternal after an efficient outing from baseball’s 18th best prospect. Visions of two aces danced through imaginations of Mariners fans everywhere. It was hard to imagine not seeing Taijuan on the roster for the 2014 season, yet that is exactly what happened. Starting out as shoulder inflammation, the issue eventually mutated into a mild impingement. If that wasn’t enough to make any Mariners fan queasy, comments from Lloyd called into question the young pitcher’s dedication and maturity. The situation was growing bleak, and appeared to be headed a direction that no one wanted.
September rolled in and Walker had earned himself a call-up. His usage was relegated strictly to the bullpen, that is until Elias went down with an injury of his own. As Walker moved back into the rotation fans had to develop a new set of expectations. Do we dig up our old canister of hope? Do we take the word of McClendon for gospel and question the young man’s dedication? Do we completely reset, having zero expectations while taking a wait and see approach? Emotions were involved at this point and finding a way to disconnect and simply observe was nearly impossible. By the end of the season we were left with a mere sample. Barely enough to redevelop some hope.
Enter 2015 spring training. The effect was immediate. Reports came in early and often: something was different with Walker. The way the young man carried himself, his poise, his aura, Taijuan Walker had come to camp ready. There would be no adjustment period. There would be no time to get a feel for things. There was a job up for grabs. For all intents and purposes Elias was the sole opponent. A bit of talk of Erasmo Ramirez being in the mix was nothing other than posturing. The battle was over before it began. Taijuan already knew that, he was just waiting for the rest of us to realize. Dominant doesn’t quite describe the body of work he crafted out there in the hitter friendly confines of the greater Phoenix area. The media contributed this new and improved Walker to a candid conversation between Lloyd and he. The content was undoubtedly important for Lloyd to convey. Pitching like a rookie was out of the question. The results are hard to argue with and narratives are an undeniable part of spring training. Contribute this improvement to whatever source you see fit, but more importantly just recognize it for what it is: real.
Tonight we will see our young prospect take the mound as the number four starter. In terms of potential, this is not befitting in the least. However, even with his dominating spring, Walker has much to prove. Expectations aside, Walker is still a rookie. He has shown the ability to succeed at this level, sustaining that level success and excellence will be the next challenge. Tonight’s challenge will of course be the Athletics and their newly revamped squad. Fortunately, the A’s are sporting a right heavy lineup these days which should favor Taijuan. Expecting another string of 18 scoreless innings is a recipe for disappointment. However, expecting excellence from this highly touted young pitcher should be encouraged. The organizations best pitching prospect since Felix Hernandez is at the genesis of his attempt to become an indispensable asset to the Seattle Mariners organization. Excitement is in the air. This could be the beginning of a new era of pitching and anyone tuning in tonight will get to say they were watching the day Taijuan Walker arrived.