Taijuan Walker isn’t injured, but concerns mounting for Phillies
NEW YORK — Taijuan Walker isn’t hurt, he said Thursday afternoon, after his velocity was down significantly and his control was off in a 4-2 loss to the Mets.
It adds yet another layer of concern to what’s been a disappointing season for the Phillies, who were swept at Citi Field and are 25-31 heading into D.C., just a game better than the last-place Nationals.
“Complacency, I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” manager Rob Thomson said. “We just haven’t put it all together yet.”
Walker retired nine of the first 10 Mets he faced in the series finale but unraveled thereafter. His sinker averaged 90.6 mph, well down from his season average of 92.7. His four-seam fastball and splitter were also down more than 1 mph.
The Mets whiffed at just four of his 74 pitches. Walker has three strikeouts in his last 14 innings. He induced a good amount of soft, early contact in his prior two starts but continues to walk far too many hitters. He’s walked multiple batters in nine of his 12 starts, a problem that is amplified when you can’t miss many bats.
“Honestly, I just couldn’t get it going,” Walker said. “Morning game, I don’t want to make any excuses but my body just wasn’t going for me.
“Kind of just searching right now, trying to find what’s working. A little bit all over the place right now.”
Walker, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract over the offseason, has not pitched well overall in his first two months as a Phillie. The team is already in a precarious position in the rotation with no fifth starter and few legitimate choices on the farm. The starting pitching depth is so thin that Saturday, the next time the No. 5 spot comes up, will be another game started by the bullpen.
“He was just off today, command was off, his stuff wasn’t as crisp,” Thomson said. “He’s got to grind through it, just like our hitters, just like everybody on the roster. We’ve got to start playing better baseball and get back to .500.”
The Phillies scored three runs in the three-game sweep. They walked three times. They rank in the bottom third of baseball in home runs, the bottom five in batting average with runners in scoring position, the bottom five in walk rate and have chased more pitches than every team but the White Sox. They haven’t arrived at this record because of misfortune.
“No one’s feeling sorry for us,” Kyle Schwarber said. “We’ve just got to be able to turn pages. … It’s important for us to go into (D.C.) and play a good series, play a good first game.
“If you look in the clubhouse, you see the urgency. We’re not going to go and press a panic button, but the reality is we just got swept. For us as a whole group, we’re frustrated but there’s a new challenge ahead of us.”
The Phillies are 11-21 on the road. They lost Wednesday and Thursday despite striking first in both games. They scored a grand total of three runs in the three games. They are 2-5 on their 10-game NL East road trip. They finish up with three in D.C.
The 2022 Phillies were two games under .500 through this many games and made it to the World Series. The 2021 Braves were two games under .500 and won the World Series. The 2019 Nationals were eight games under .500 and also won it all.
While those situations prove that two bad months don’t necessarily spell doom, it’s not something a team in 2023 should rely upon.
“Trust me, I don’t think there’s any blas,” Schwarber said. “We’re not panicking but there is a sense of urgency. Just because we had the experience last year doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen. You’re not just going to flip a season.
“The challenge is for us to be able to have a short memory.”