Taijuan Walker, right-hander of the Arizona Diamondbacks, says he needs to keep the ball down in Chase Field
It’s not so much adjusting from pitching with the American League Seattle Mariners to the National League Diamondbacks, but acclimating to Chase Field. Known as a hitters’ ball park, and, at times, infamously referred as a launching pad, Chase Field can be unforgiving to pitchers.
Setting up his shingle in a place like Chase could be unnerving for Walker. Plus, Walker has given up a plethora of home runs in his brief, two-year major league career. With the Mariners in 2015, Walker allowed 25 homers in 169.2 innings. Last season, he surrendered 27 round-trippers in 134.1 innings, and also spent time on the disabled list with bone spurs in his right ankle.
Among National League ball parks, Chase Field was the venue for the most homers per nine innings. An average of 2.73 home runs per nine innings were hit here. The Rockies’ Coors Field was second in the league with an average of 2.65 homers per nine innings.
Overall, Chase Field was the third highest in the majors behind Yankee Stadium (2.89 per nine innings), and the Mariners’ Safeco Field (2.84 per nine innings).
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All of which is front-and-center on Walker’s radar screen.
“I need to keep the ball down and get the ground ball out,” Walker said during a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon. “I know (Chase Field) is a hitters’ park and you always need to keep the ball on the ground. For that reason, I’m developing a two-seamer and sinker in addition to a change.”
If Walker can develop key pitches needed to be successful in Chase Field, he comes with a nearly ready-made arsenal. Known as a fast ball pitcher with velocity in the mid-90s, Walker said bone spurs, 10 in all, in his right foot last season hampered success. For the season, the 6-4 native of Yucaipa, Calif. went 8-11 in 25 starts and a 4.22 ERA.
By mid-season, Walker developed those bone spurs and compromised his mechanics.
“I couldn’t push off and that affected the velocity,” he said. “On each pitch, I knew it would hurt. When the doctors went in there, they actually found those 10, and did the surgery.”
Now, Walker says he’s healthy and will be ready for spring training. Instead of compromising for the pain, Walker had begun work to address mechanics. With less pain and the mission to develop pitches designed for Chase Field, Walker says he’s ready to meet his new mates.
Dealt on the night before Thanksgiving, Walker said he was “in shock” of the trade. First, he received a call from his agent confirming the trade, and then took a call from Jerry DiPoto, the M’s general manager.
“I’m super excited to join the Diamondbacks,” he said. “There’s a great deal of young talent here, and excited to be part of this.”
Upon previous associations, Walker said he pitched with Archie Bradley in the 2013 Futures Game at Citi Field in New York. As well, Welington Castillo caught Walker when Castillo was with the Mariners during the 2015 season.
Manager Tony Lovullo finalized his staff.
On Thursday, Tim Laker was named assistant hitting coach. Laker, 47, enters his first season in the Arizona organization and his first as a coach at the Major-League level. He spent 2016 as the hitting coach with Double-A Akron in the Indians’ organization.
Laker played professionally for 19 seasons, including parts of 11 seasons in the Majors, hitting .226 with 28 doubles, 11 home runs and 79 RBI in 282 games with Montreal (1992-95), Baltimore (1997), Tampa Bay (1998, 2005), Pittsburgh (1998-1999) and Cleveland (2001-06).