D-backs walk off with 85th and final win of 2019

Locastro's single wins it; Walker returns after 17 months of rehab

September 30th, 2019

PHOENIX -- As he walked down the line to begin his warmups Sunday, D-backs right-hander could hear the fans screaming at him.

“Welcome back!”

“Glad to have you back, Taijuan!”

It was then that the emotions almost got the best of Walker, who was making his return to a big league mound for the first time in 533 days.

That the D-backs beat the Padres, 1-0, on a ninth-inning walk-off hit in their season finale was important, but hardly the biggest moment of the day.

That belonged to Walker.

“To watch him walk off the mound -- and I feel like I know his body language and his facial expressions -- it told me a great story,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “I think his teammates, you could see their excitement. He came out of that feeling as good as we could have expected. He worked hard to make today happen before the season was over.”

As planned, Walker threw just the first inning. He allowed a one-out double to Wil Myers before retiring the next two hitters. Of the 15 pitches he threw, 11 were strikes.

“It was fun,” Walker said. “I had a good time out there. I was a little emotional before I walked out there. Warming up and stuff, it was just crazy. Two seasons -- just straight rehab, mentally just grinding and trying to get through it.

“I felt like I had good control. Threw the one slider; I was praying it didn’t go out. I legit was praying that it didn’t go out. I felt like my changeup was really good.”

Walker’s last appearance in a Major League game was April 14, 2018, when he started against the Dodgers. He was removed from that game after two innings when he experienced pain in his right elbow.

It turned out to be a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and Walker underwent Tommy John surgery later that month.

Just as he was nearing a return to action this past May, he suffered a right shoulder capsule sprain. That put him out of action for six weeks and forced him to start building his pitch count back up from scratch.

There was some question as to whether he would pitch again this year, but Walker desperately wanted to make it happen.

After all the rehab and lonely days at the team’s Salt River Fields Spring Training complex, he wanted to prove to himself that he was fully recovered.

“[Checked] the final box,” he said. “Even right now, I feel really good. I can go into the offseason knowing, ‘Hey, I’m 100 percent completely healthy. I can have a normal offseason and just get ready for Spring Training.’”

That’s the next step for Walker’s teammates, as well, after finishing the season with five straight wins to bring their final record to 85-77.

The D-backs grinded right up until the last play, as singled home to walk things off in the ninth.

“How much more proud of these guys can I be?” Lovullo said. “We didn’t shut down until the final out, and I was so proud of these guys for that. To watch them celebrate on the field and have that moment to end the season [today] couldn’t have gone any better for me.”