Taijuan Walker living up to expectations to start 2016

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There was a hope that given how he closed 2015, this would be the year that Seattle Mariners starter Taijuan Walker flourished in his role in the starting rotation behind ace pitcher Felix Hernandez.

Through three starts, it looks as if there’s a chance for those hopes to be realized.

Walker allowed one unearned run and three hits in six innings to the Cleveland Indians, a team he has always pitched well against. He has allowed one earned run in 20 innings against them.

Walker, who had a ground-ball rate of 41 percent in his first full season last year, has induced 50 percent ground balls in each of his three starts, and also limited opponents to a 16 percent line-drive rate (it was 21 percent last season). Video review credits him with a 10 percent hard-hit rate (it was 15 percent last season).

Walker has been working to develop his curveball, but while he’s doing so, his splitter (which some call a changeup) has been terrific. Opponents are 2-for-20 against it this season. The Indians were 1-for-7 with five balls recorded as soft-hit.

On Wednesday, Walker also spotted his fastball well. Opponents went 2-for-11 against it, as he kept the pitch out of hitter’s reach.

Walker’s start is a sharp contrast to last season, when, after an impressive spring training, he allowed nine runs in his season debut and 15 runs in 12 2/3 innings in his first three starts.

And Walker has now done something Hernandez has never accomplished. He has started a season with three straight appearances of at least six innings, with no more than two runs allowed in each game.