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The Strike Zone

Mariners' Taijuan Walker wins debut on a great night for young pitching

Taijuan Walker was pitched five strong innings against the Astros on Friday night. [Pat Sullivan/AP] Taijuan Walker was pitched five strong innings against the Astros on Friday night. [Pat Sullivan/AP]

This is why runs are down in baseball. Just look at the starters who took the ball for their teams on Friday night, and it’s not hard to divine why there’s been a steadily downward shift in offense these past few years.

Many of the game’s best young pitchers were all on display Friday night. Consider this cohort that ESPN's Keith Law was tweeting about -- the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, the Braves’ Julio Teheran, the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller, the Athletics’ Jarrod Parker, the Diamondbacks’ Randall Delgado, the Brewers’ Wily Peralta and the debut of the Mariners’ Taijuan Walker-- and who are all 24 or younger. They are part of wave of highly touted arms that farm systems seem to keep churning out.

O.K., obviously the influx of great young pitchers is only part of the reason that offenses have struggled so mightily of late, but it’s also true that great pitching has no age limit, as the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano, the Angels’ Jered Weaver, the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, the Rangers’ Yu Darvish and the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu -- all 30 or younger -- logged impressive outings as well.

Liriano, Weaver and Lincecum all started team shutouts while Ryu, Teheran, Walker and Delgado all allowed either zero or one run; Fernandez allowed two, while Darvis and Peralta each allowed three. Not every aforementioned pitcher had a good night, however -- Miller got rocked by the Pirates -- but there was a wealth of talent throwing baseballs over the plate on this night, a group that grew by one with the addition of Walker.

On the same day the Mariners traded veteran hitter Michael Morse, the latest sign of Seattle’s rebuilding process, Walker made his big league debut. Rated the No. 7 prospect in the sport, according to Baseball America’s midseason list, Walker is the first of the Mariners’ big three to reach the majors, even though he’s younger than Danny Hultzen and James Paxton.

Walker showed he was plenty ready in throwing five innings and allowing just one unearned run on two hits and one walk while striking out two. In splitting his time between Double A and Triple A this season, the former supplemental first-round pick out of Yucaipa, Calif., who only turned 21 two weeks ago had a 2.93 ERA in 141 1/3 innings and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

The ranks of the high-ceiling starter swelled by one with Walker’s inclusion, as hitters everywhere are left shaking their heads.
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