Right-hander Taijuan Walker of the Arizona Diamondbacks showed plenty of up-side in his initial start of the spring
When the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired right-hander Taijuan Walker in the off-season, the immediate discussion centered around Walker’s upside. Here was a player at 24-years-old with a live arm, positive disposition and a wealth of talent.
The only element preventing Walker from reaching any potential was an injured ankle. Walker pushed through that pain last season and showed flashes of the kind of ability and future what was envisioned. That was not good enough for the Seattle Mariners, who dealt Walker last Nov. 23 to the Diamondbacks as part of the Jean Segura trade.
The buzz around the Diamondbacks this spring centered, in part, around Walker. Anticipated as the number two starter behind Zack Greinke, Walker’s physical stature bordered on the dominant. That was evident Tuesday in his initial start of the spring.
Against the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Walker showed the kind of ability which drew praise. With a fastball reaching into the mid-90s and a curve which kept hitters off balanced, Walker showed an ability to mix pitches efficiently and communicate successfully with catcher Jeff Mathis.
"“Fast ball command was the big thing for me,” Walker told Venom Strikes after the Diamondbacks beat the Rangers, 8-4. “Felt great and I was able to keep the sinker and slider away. I’m working on the slider and it’s was good to throw that for strikes and keep that pitch away from right-handed hitters.”"
In going two innings, Walker showed an economy of pitches. He needed 21 pitches to get through his first of two innings and 36 for the effort. In the mix, Walker hit the strike zone 26 times, allowed only two hits, walked none and fanned three. He struck out the side in the first inning.
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Gradually, Walker built velocity on his pitches and started out in the low 90s. After a two-out single up the middle from Texas catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Walker reached back a blew a 94 mile-per-hour fastball past Mike Napoli for a called strike three. Asked by Venom Strikes about the velocity on the strikeout pitch to Napoli, Walker smiled and said, “I like to ramp it up with two strikes.”
In the process, Mathis became a fan of Walker.
Telling Venom Strikes after the game that spring training is the most important time because of the education process of the pitching staff, Mathis pointed out that his first experience with Walker Tuesday was as rewarding as it was beneficial.
"“(Walker) threw the ball very well and mixed all of his pitches intelligently,” Mathis told Venom Strikes. “His fast ball command was impressive and he is a guy who knows how to pitch.”"
Daily camp doings
Third baseman Jake Lamb is recovering from a stomach virus. He did not make the trip to Surprise but is scheduled to be in the lineup Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch.
Reliever Matt Koch faced hitters for the second time this spring at Salt River. Koch is battling hamstring issues. Reliever Jimmy Sherfy returned to camp activates. He missed two days due to illness.
Left-hander Robbie Ray gets his first start of the spring Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Righty James Shields is slated to go for the South Siders.
On Thursday, the Diamondbacks have a split-squad, day-night doubleheader at Salt River. In the afternoon game against the San Diego Padres (1:10 p.m.) right-hander Archie Bradley will start, and righty Shelby Miller will start the night game (7:10 p. m.) against the Chicago Cubs.