CHICAGO -- Taijuan Walker was an All-Star for the Mets last year, and while he won’t be in the Midsummer Classic this season, he’s surely pitching like he belongs there.
Walker delivered another dominant outing in the Mets’ 2-1 extra-innings win in Game 1 of Saturday’s split doubleheader against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, lowering his ERA to 2.55 on the year.
“Very happy,” Walker said. “I feel like I’m going out there and giving the team a chance to win every single time out, and that’s my job.”
The right-hander went six strong innings, allowing just one run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts, earning himself another quality start -- something that the Mets have seen a lot of recently.
Walker has now put up seven straight quality starts dating back to June 12. In those outings, he has pitched 45 innings with an impressive 1.80 ERA and 48 strikeouts.
“I feel like I started off slow, I was working through some things,” Walker said, in reference to his 3.52 ERA through five starts to begin the year. “I feel like I put together everything and was able to get in a good groove.”
This type of success is what the Mets saw from Walker in 2021 -- and how he earned his first All-Star selection. Although he finished the year with a 4.47 ERA, his first-half numbers were much better. In 17 games (16 starts) before the All-Star break, Walker was 7-3 with a 2.66 ERA and allowed 14 doubles and six home runs in 94 2/3 innings.
The crazy part: those numbers are awfully similar to what he has done in the first half of the 2022 season. With the no decision on Saturday, Walker is 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA and has allowed 12 doubles and four home runs in 91 2/3 innings across 16 starts.
“Just doing the same thing I’m doing right now,” Walker said on how he plans to keep this up. “I’m not trying to change anything, and just keep mixing my pitches and not try to do too much more.”
On Saturday, Walker stayed in control with his four-seam fastball and splitter, while mixing in his slider. With his seven scoreless innings in his previous start against the Marlins on July 10, the veteran pitcher tied his career high with 13 consecutive scoreless innings before allowing an RBI single to Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel in the fourth.
Walker didn’t receive much run support, but the Mets’ bats did just enough to secure the win, thanks to All-Star Pete Alonso.
Alonso brought in both runs in Game 1 -- with an RBI double in the fourth and a sacrifice fly in the 11th -- to bring his RBI total to an MLB-leading 76. Those RBIs are the most by a Mets player before the All-Star break, breaking David Wright’s 74 in the 2006 season.
But even with the limited run support, Walker did what he has been doing best all season: giving the team a chance to win. That’s all the Mets can ask for as their rotation gets closer to full strength.
“It’s been solid, especially in a time of need,” said manager Buck Showalter of his rotation.
With Jacob deGrom yet to make his season debut and Max Scherzer missing almost two months of the season, the Mets’ rotation has fared well in their absence. Entering Saturday, New York’s 3.79 rotation ERA ranked ninth in the Majors. That number has a chance to improve with two of the best pitchers in baseball on track to form an elite one-two punch atop the Mets’ rotation.
Since returning from the IL earlier this month, Scherzer -- who started Game 2 of the doubleheader against the Cubs -- entered Saturday having allowed just one run in 13 innings. After a successful third rehab start, deGrom is slated to throw a simulated game on Tuesday, with his return expected to come around July 24-27.
Add the way Walker has pitched on the mound recently, and the Mets’ starting rotation is looking like one of the best in baseball when fully healthy.
“A lot of the things that Billy [Eppler] and the GM and ownership did in the offseason has really paid dividends for us,” Showalter said, “and guys that have stepped up in this time of need.”