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Approach-minded Walker finding power stroke

September 21, 2018

PHOENIX -- Late in the game, two outs, your teammates in scoring position and an opposing pitcher coming in from the bullpen whose only job is to get you out. As a pinch-hitter, it might be easy to feel like the whole game is riding on your at-bat.For a pinch-hitter

PHOENIX -- Late in the game, two outs, your teammates in scoring position and an opposing pitcher coming in from the bullpen whose only job is to get you out. As a pinch-hitter, it might be easy to feel like the whole game is riding on your at-bat.
For a pinch-hitter like the D-backs' Christian Walker, a simple phrase sets the mental parameters for his approach off the bench.
"Less is more."
"You can let all the angles sink in, affect you and feel like the situation you're in is so important," said Walker. "Not that it isn't, it's just that in order to be successful in that situation, I know I'll be in a better place if I play it simple, downplay it and basically just limit my objective to helping the team. It might mean having a long at-bat, just putting a ball in play or moving a runner. It's just about helping the team, period."
The 27-year-old has found success against some of baseball's elite pitchers. Walker belted a 427-foot, pinch-hit homer on Sept. 1 -- his second pinch-hit blast off three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw this season. He then slugged a three-run homer off four-time All-Star Cole Hamels during the first inning of the D-backs' 9-0 win against the Cubs on Wednesday.

Aside from playing in 35 games for the D-backs this season, Walker has come up big at Triple-A Reno since joining the organization last year. In addition to hitting .299 with 18 homers and 71 RBIs for the Aces in 2018, his .309 average, 32 home runs and 114 RBIs for Reno last year made him the first D-backs prospect to win the Pacific Coast League MVP Award since Chris Owings in '13.
"It takes a lot to receive that honor," said Owings. "You have to play and perform every single day, and Christian's done that. It's not easy to win something like that down there because the travel schedule is tough, and you have to wake up a lot of the time at 3 or 4 in the morning. So for him to prepare every day, drive in homers and runs is a big deal and pretty special."
Despite his penchant for power, Walker does not to limit himself to just being a home-run hitter. Being a well-rounded hitter is more important to him.
"I just pride myself on being a complete hitter," added Walker. "I like to think I'm comfortable leading off and hitting with two strikes. I have definitely developed that over the years. I wasn't always a power hitter, I was more of a doubles and a batting-average guy before I found the power stroke. I still remember and embrace that."

It didn't take long for Walker to make contact in the big leagues. His first Major League hit was a double for the Orioles in 2014, and it was only a few days before he recorded his first home run during a multi-hit game against the Red Sox.
Dating even further back, the Pennsylvania native played at one of the winningest college baseball programs since 1970 -- the University of South Carolina -- starting at first base for both of the team's back-to-back College World Series championship teams in 2010 and '11.
"I started talking to other guys who played in college who didn't have that same experience, and that's when I really realized how special it was in terms of what that team did," said Walker. "It was so much fun, and it started to feel like such a good routine after three years. It kind of felt like, why would we expect anything else? That's how everybody handled their business."
His 28 hits during the College World Series are tied for most all-time, but his college years gave him more than just the opportunity to win back-to-back titles. The first baseman attributes much of his mental strength and maturity to his South Carolina coach, Ray Tanner.
"He was so good at getting the best out of athletes and players and breaking them down because he knew guys would grow from it," said Walker. "There were a lot of hurdles to jump, like mental toughness, learning about myself and maturing that I wouldn't have crossed that early if he hadn't brought those things up front.
"Those experiences really reconfirmed the idea of just going out there and playing for a team. You go out there and play for the team and take any selfishness out of it. And when guys start thinking about how their actions can help the team, that's when the best in everyone comes out. Playing for each other is ultimately the best."

Kennedy Jorgensen is a contributor to MLB.com.