Journeyman Walden carving niche with Red Sox

May 1st, 2019

BOSTON -- The decade-plus journey for to try to make a name for himself in professional baseball is finally paying off for the 30-year-old righty reliever from Fresno, Calif.

When the season started, Walden was in a place that has become all too familiar for him through the years -- the Minor Leagues.

But Walden has already been called up twice from Triple-A Pawtucket this season, and he might not be going back. The righty was stellar again for the Red Sox on Wednesday afternoon at Fenway Park, firing three shutout innings (one hit, no walks, three strikeouts) behind opener Hector Velazquez to lead his team to a 7-3 victory and three-game sweep of the Athletics.

“He’s been great,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He’s been outstanding. When he got called up, he pitched the ball well. We had to make a move [to send him back], and he stayed positive. He’s been outstanding in different roles. Today, the goal [for Walden] was to get 27 outs and have the lead. We accomplished that, and he was a big part of that.”

Who leads the 14-17 Red Sox in wins? It might take you a few guesses, but the correct answer is Walden, who is 4-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 11 appearances.

This is the same Walden who entered the season with zero career wins in eight appearances, all of which came last season for Boston.

“I’m just trying to enjoy it,” Walden said. “Honestly, it’s been a long road, so just being able to come up here and take the ball whenever I get the chance is great.”

Originally drafted by the Blue Jays in 2007, Walden moved on to Oakland’s farm system in '14. He went to the Reds in '14, the Twins in '15 and ultimately the Red Sox in '17. You get it: He was a journeyman.

Not anymore. Walden has become one of the relievers Cora counts on most. With a combination of sinkers, fastballs, sliders and cutters, Walden needed just 31 pitches to get his nine outs against Oakland.

If this type of storyline sounds familiar, it’s because the Red Sox had a similar one unfold last season with . Heading into 2018, Brasier had just seven Major League appearances, all for the Angels in 2007. By ’17, Brasier was pitching in Japan. After the one season abroad, Brasier sent an e-mail to all 30 MLB teams advising them of his availability.

The Red Sox took a look, liked what they saw and stashed Brasier in the Minors until July when a need arose. Brasier became a bullpen force down the stretch of the regular season and all the way through the World Series, and it has carried over into this year.

And now, Brasier gets to look on with pride as Walden emerges from obscurity.

“It’s awesome,” Brasier said. “Older guys like myself who didn’t have a lot of time, and then being here and throwing here and throwing meaningful innings and stuff, most everybody likes to see it. I know how I felt last year when it was all going on, and I still feel it. It’s a good place to be.”

What has been responsible for Walden’s breakthrough? The slider.

“A lot of it is the slider,” Walden said. “I really didn’t start throwing the slider until about two years ago. Being able to get more consistent with it and having more feel with it is something that helps.”

The other catalyst has been nothing more than opportunity. If the Red Sox had re-signed Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, Walden might not even be getting his current chance to perform.

“He’s got good stuff, first of all,” Cora said. “Good velocity, good movement, good slider. I think usage has been a little bit different this year, and he’s gaining confidence. You use him in big spots, they are high-leverage spots and you get outs, and you keep growing and you keep feeling better about yourself.”

And on offense …

clubbed another homer, his team-leading ninth of the season. It’s no surprise that Moreland did damage against the A’s again. He has tormented them recently. Moreland has six homers in his past 16 games against the A’s. He has 22 career homers against Oakland, seven more than against any other opponent.

“He’s a good hitter and has been doing it a long time,” A’s catcher Josh Phegley said. “We’ve unfortunately seen a lot of it. We kind of want to pitch him in, but it’s hard to execute those pitches and he’s a professional hitter. He’s a big, strong guy who can do some damage.”

On the road again

The Red Sox closed out the homestand 5-4 as they embark on a seven-game trek through Chicago and Baltimore. Considering the stand opened by getting swept by the Tigers in a day-night doubleheader, it wasn’t a bad rebound.

There are signs that Boston is starting to emerge from a rough start. The starting pitching and the bats are starting to perform in unison, which wasn’t happening before.

"I honestly think that we played well against Tampa Bay,” Cora said. “Just, we faced a good pitching staff. We hit them in the bullpen, but we didn't win those two games. We had a bad day against Detroit, but overall we played good baseball. Obviously, we wanted better results, but it is what it is. But we've been playing better."