For some, spring training is the mundane ramp up to the regular season. For New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, it’s essential in ushering in some much-needed normalcy.
The 28-year-old right-hander who signed a three-year deal to join the Mets this winter was recovering from Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2019 and had just one exhibition start last year before COVID-19 shut baseball down.
On Tuesday afternoon, he made his spring debut for the Mets, allowing two runs on two hits with a pair of strikeouts and walks in two innings of work, throwing 36 pitches.
“This was my second spring training start in three years,” Walker said after his start. “Coming back from Tommy John, last year shut down halfway through spring. It’s just nice to have spring training and ramp-up to the start of the season.”
Over those last three years, Walker has thrown a grand total of just 67 innings, which obviously creates questions of just how long it will take for him to get ready for the season and just how far he can go.
In terms of preparations, that doesn’t seem to be a concern for Walker, who admitted that he was dealing with some mechanical issues on Tuesday — most notably overstriding in the second inning that threw his timing off.
“I know if I get to 85, 90 pitches, I’ll be fine to go for the regular season,” he said. “Next [start] will be 65, so I have three or four more starts so that will be plenty.”
Walker is tabbed to be the No. 4 starter of the Mets rotation behind Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, and Marcus Stroman while David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi battle it out for that final No. 5 spot.
“We’re all different. We all throw differently and we all have different stuff so there are things we can learn from each other,” Walker said. “We have the best pitcher in the game [in deGrom]… we’re really deep and have a really good rotation… I’m excited to go into battle with these guys this season.”
Manager Luis Rojas has already tabbed Walker as one of the clubhouse leaders despite being one of the newest members of the rotation and the team.
“In the clubhouse, that’s where I’ve gotten to know him a little bit. He shows that he’s a leader,” Rojas said on Tuesday. “I think I described him in the last few days as a young veteran. This guy’s been around for eight years and he’s 28 years old. The way he carries himself, outspoken, just getting involved immediately… I think he’s up to speed.”
Those traits were honed during Walker’s time with the Seattle Mariners, where he was one of the more established members of a young team.
“Last year when I signed with Seattle, they had a lot of young guys and I had the third-most time on the team, so I kinda stepped into that role,” Walker said. “I learned what it takes to be a leader… I just want to try and bring that over here to this team.”