Walker delivers All-Star-worthy start vs. Fish

July 11th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Taijuan Walker is not an All-Star, at least not yet. There’s a decent chance that when the dust settles on rosters over the next week, Walker will find his way to Los Angeles.

When Major League Baseball announced its initial All-Star rosters after Walker fired seven more scoreless innings in a 2-0, 10-inning loss to the Marlins on Sunday, the right-hander was a notable omission. “Snub” may be too strong of a word for Walker, who has gone 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA to date. But on paper, he’s at least as deserving as any other candidate who did not make the team.

“He’s had a competitive gleam in his eye since the day he walked into St. Lucie,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Tai really wants to be a contributor to a really good club.”

Sunday’s loss was hardly the fault of Walker, who matched Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara inning for inning at Citi Field, before catcher Tomás Nido committed a throwing error to allow the game’s first run to score in the 10th. Walker faced the minimum his first time through the order and didn’t allow much more traffic after that, permitting only three hits and a walk.

Over his last six starts, Walker is undefeated with a 1.85 ERA. Sunday marked his fourth outing of at least seven innings without an earned run, which is tied for second in the Majors behind only Alcantara.

“I feel confident in everything I have right now, with all my pitches,” Walker said. “I’ve been getting a lot more ground balls this year, and it’s nice because I have a really good defense behind me.”

Certainly, Walker boasts the resume of an All-Star. Although he remains one-third of an inning shy of qualifying for the NL ERA title, he would rank seventh in that category, sixth in ground-ball rate, third in home run rate and seventh in FIP -- a statistic that attempts to tease team defense (and thus luck) out of a pitcher’s performance. The downside of Walker’s resume is a relative lack of innings, as a spring knee injury and subsequent bout of shoulder bursitis limited his contributions early in the season. But Walker has not missed a start since April 30.

Other pitchers with similar resumes did not make the initial NL All-Star roster -- most notably San Francisco’s Carlos Rodón and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler, who rank first and second in FIP, respectively. Of the six pitchers with a better ERA than Walker, only Wheeler missed the cut. But pitchers, more than position players, are often added to the team late. Last year, four pitchers dropped from the initial rosters of both the AL and NL, clearing the way for eight new selections in the week leading up to the game.

Among them was Walker, who made his first career All-Star Game as a replacement.

“Being in L.A. this year would mean a lot just because it’s close to home,” Walker said. “A lot of friends and family are close by, so they would get a chance to come see me play in the All-Star Game in L.A. I know I’ve got a lot of friends and family there that would be excited. So it would be fun. It would be good. Hopefully, I get in. If not, having the four days off would be nice, too.”

Walker will have one more chance to bolster his resume this week in Chicago, though he’s not sweating that part of the equation. Sunday, he mostly bemoaned the fact that his effort was not quite enough to best Alcantara, a pitcher who did make the NL All-Star team and is a prime candidate to start the game at Dodger Stadium.

“You want to go out there and just try to be just a little bit better,” Walker said. “It was a fun matchup today. That’s baseball. We’re going to lose those games. That was one of the best pitchers, if not the best pitcher in baseball, and we battled.”