HomeTeamsPhilliesTaijuan Walker’s Return Gives Phillies a “Good Problem”

Taijuan Walker’s Return Gives Phillies a “Good Problem”

The expected return of Taijuan Walker to the Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation presents manager Rob Thompson with what could be called a “good problem.” Walker went on the disabled list with a “right shoulder impingement” late in Spring Training. His place in the rotation was taken by righty Spencer Turnbull who was signed to a $2 million dollar one-year contract as insurance against just such an emergency.

Turnbull pitched better than anyone could have expected in his four starts as Walker’s substitute. On April 19, he no-hit the punchless Chicago White Sox for six and 1/3 innings. He has a sterling 1.23 ERA over twenty-two innings. Now the question is what to do with Turnbull with Walker returning.

Turnbull will not be returned to the minor leagues. He has a right to refuse such an assignment as a five-year player, and he has pitched so well, he would certainly refuse such an assignment. The most likely scenario is that he will work as a long man in the bullpen, do some spot starting, and perhaps, become the sixth starter, if the Phillies decide to go with a six-man rotation later in the season.

The real question mark here is Walker. He was struggling with his velocity before he was shut down in Spring Training. His fastball has averaged 90.7 during his recent rehab starts in the minor leagues, compared to 92.4 in 2023. Thompson says he is not that worried about the velocity and believes it will tick up a notch or two when Walker is back in Major League ballparks. “It’s more about the shape of his stuff, ability to throw strikes, that type of thing,” he said.

On Sunday, April 21, Walker had his final Minor League tune-up before being brought back to the big club. He threw 102 pitches, in six and 1/3 innings of pitching, giving up four earned runs, on seven hits, with three walks and just one strikeout. His fastball hovered in the 89-90 mph range. He relied heavily on his breaking pitches, particularly his splitter.

This mediocre outing against Minor League hitters is sure to leave Phillies fans apprehensive. While Walker compiled a solid 15-6, 4.38 record with the Phillies last year, he was ineffective for long stretches from August to September and was not used by Thompson in the playoffs, sitting in favor of the unheralded Christopher Sanchez. Walker was reportedly displeased with his playoff benching, but both he and Thompson said that they had cleared the air on any differences they might have had.

While the fans may prefer to stick with Turnbull and let Walker work out of the bullpen, that is not going to happen. Turnbull has been sidelined by injury and ineffectiveness over the last three seasons and pitched only 57+ innings last year between the Major and Minor Leagues. Thompson does not want to overuse him. Walker, on the other hand, is a proven innings eater who pitched 172+ innings last year. Walker is also in the second year of a four-year, $72 million contract, so, if he is healthy, he is going to pitch. The Phillies, and manager Thompson, can only hope that he can show the form he displayed in the early months of 2023.

Walker’s first start will likely come this weekend in San Diego. The fretful Phillies fans will be watching closely.


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