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19 Jun 2024

Walking on a thin line

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June 19, 2024 Category: Sports Posted by:

In a pitching rotation filled with potential all-stars, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Taijuan Walker is sticking out for all the wrong reasons.

ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) in action during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday SUN

BALTIMORE For the amount of money that the Phillies are paying starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, the perception of his season so far resembles what Philadelphia 76ers fans have been saying about veteran Tobias Harris.

The amount of production doesn’t equal the money spent.

Walker is in the second year of a four-year, $72 million contract. So far, it appears that the Phillies aren’t getting their money’s worth for this season. After returning from an early stint on the injured list, Walker has spent much of the season trying to find his groove and fans have been calling for Spencer Turnbull, who did a good job in a fill-in role, to take his spot in the Phillies starting rotation.

In a starting rotation that includes Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and early Cy Young Award favorite Ranger Suarez, Walker is emerging as the weakest link. The Phillies are third in MLB in team earned run average.

Last season, Walker had a 15-6 record, but had a 4.38 earned run average. The wins looked good on the surface, but his high ERA was enough for Phillies manager Rob Thomson to keep Walker off the mound during the 2023 postseason. That was something that didn’t sit well with Walker and he said as much in a tweet that he felt disrespected and vowed to be better this season.

 Walker has a 5.33 earned run average and has allowed three or more runs in six of his last nine starts. He has a 3-2 record but has the highest earned run average among the Phillies starters and hasn’t recorded a win since May 11. In his last six starts, he has four no-decisions and two losses. 

Walker started the season with a stiff right shoulder, and he experienced an injury to his foot after being hit by a line drive. He has been making a seemingly uphill climb to find himself ever since.

In his last two outings against the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Mets in London, there have been some signs that he starting to find semblance of where Phillies manager Rob Thomson wants him to be.

Against the Orioles where he was the losing pitcher in a 6-2 loss, Walker allowed three runs on six hits with four strikeouts and two walks. Thomson said his fastball and his curve were working for Walker, but his power pitch, the splitfinger fastball, hasn’t been as effective.

But Thomson sees some light at the end of the tunnel.

“I think he’s throwing the ball well,” Thomson said after the Phillies loss to the Orioles on Saturday. “He threw the ball well in London (against the Mets) and he threw it pretty well and (Saturday) was a good day. I would like to see him throw with more velocity and so would he. It makes his other pitches a little more effective.”

Even after Saturday’s tough loss to Baltimore, Walker said he feels good about his last two starts, but believes that if he can add some snap to his splitter can get back to where he needs to be it’s going to help the other pitches –the curveball and slider

“Most of the success I’ve had in my career comes from the splitter, so I definitely want to find that and get it back. Luckily, the slider was working earlier in the season. Now, the curve is there … but I definitely want to get that splitter back,” Walker said. “I think It’s close. Again, the splitter is missing. I’ve been throwing it a lot between starts, but it’s a pitch I’m going to have to find.”

If Walker can somehow find his groove, the Phillies will be a tough team to beat for the remainder of the regular season and in the postseason.

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