- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Taijuan Walker has found his groove for the Seattle Mariners.

Walker struck out a career-high 11 while pitching into the seventh inning in a 6-3 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday night.

Walker (5-6) allowed three runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings to continue a stretch of dominance in his last five starts. The 22-year-old right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in that span and pitched at least six innings in each of the games.

Against Houston, he most impressed himself by walking no one.

“That’s the biggest thing, not giving anything away, any free passes,” he said. “I felt like I was really getting ahead, and after the second inning kind of just got into a nice groove.”

It’s been a big shift for Walker, who started the season 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA through nine games.

“He had a great game,” Seattle catcher Mike Zunino said. “It’s one of those things where it just seems like everything’s been building his last couple starts.”

Seattle’s offense also had a big night, something that hasn’t happened often this season. Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo homered for the Mariners, who have won two in a row and scored at least five runs in back-to-back games for the first time since April 19-20.

“I think it’s coming,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think there’s a lot more to be had with this offense. The last two nights have certainly been very nice.”

Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena homered for the Astros, who blew an early 2-0 lead.

Houston starter Dallas Keuchel (8-3) extended his streak of pitching at least six innings to 26 straight starts - the longest active run in the majors - but had his worst performance of the year. Keuchel’s four walks, five earned runs, and three home runs allowed were all season highs.

Things went wrong early for Keuchel. After Gattis and Valbuena hit solo homers in the top of the second to give the Astros a 2-0 lead, Keuchel lost his control. The Mariners tied it in the bottom of the second largely due to four walks in the inning by Keuchel, two coming with the bases loaded. Keuchel hadn’t given up more than three walks in any of his previous 14 starts this season, and he said he had a hard time getting a grip on the ball in the early innings.

“I just kind of lost it there in the second,” Keuchel said. “I’ve got to figure something out, even if I can’t get a grip on the ball. That’s a very frustrating thing.”

Carson Smith came on with two on and two outs in the eighth and closed the game, retiring all four batters he faced, for his fifth save.

YOU’RE OUT

Houston’s Gattis was called out on fan interference to end the sixth inning when Seattle shortstop Brad Miller attempted to catch his foul pop-up near the seats down the left-field line. The call was held up on replay review, although Astros manager A.J. Hinch disagreed and was ejected for arguing the call. “I don’t understand how you can assume a catch when a guy is running full speed from shortstop crashing into a wall,” Hinch said. “To make that a guaranteed catch, I’m not sure why we wouldn’t instruct all our home fans to get in the way.”

LOOKING FOR A SPARK

Seattle hopes a return to the past will reinvigorate the worst hitting team in baseball, as the Mariners hired Edgar Martinez - who played 18 years with Seattle - as their hitting coach on Saturday and reassigned Howard Johnson to their minor league system. The Mariners entered Saturday’s game with the worst batting average in the majors at .233 and ranked 28th in runs scored.

GOING YARD

The Astros have hit at least two home runs in seven straight games, a franchise record. Houston has hit 25 homers in 12 games against the Mariners this season.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Houston: 2B Jose Altuve (sore right hamstring) was out of the lineup for the third straight game.

Seattle: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (right lat strain) made a rehab start for Class A Everett, allowing three hits and one run in 3 2/3 innings.

UP NEXT

Astros: Rookie right-hander Vince Velasquez (0-0, 4.66 ERA) will make his third career start in the final game of the three-game series with Seattle on Sunday.

Mariners: Lefty J.A. Happ (3-3, 3.79) has never lost to the Astros, as he’s 3-0 in five career starts against Houston.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide