At long last, Walker ready to resume career

July 20th, 2020

SEATTLE -- It’s been 27 months since started a Major League Baseball game under normal circumstances, but the right-hander is ready to resume his once-promising career after making his final intrasquad start on Sunday night.

Walker threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing three hits with three walks and five strikeouts in his final Summer Camp tuneup and said he’s eager to test himself in real games.

This has been a long time coming for Walker, who felt tightness in his right forearm in a game at Dodger Stadium for the D-backs on April 14, 2018, and was pulled after two innings. Four days later, the difficult diagnosis arrived. He needed Tommy John surgery.

After two years of rehabilitation, Walker is ready to roll. He did make a one-inning start in Arizona’s season finale last September to check his progress, but then was nontendered by the D-backs and signed with Seattle on a one-year, $2 million free-agent deal just prior to the start of Spring Training in February.

“I threw the one inning last year and it was more just, OK, I worked my butt off, and we’ll give you one inning,” Walker said. “But now it’s go time, a real game, just go out there and pitch, and have fun with it.”

Walker’s reunion with the Mariners -- the team that drafted and developed him before trading him to the D-backs prior to the 2017 season -- has appeared fruitful so far. The 27-year-old started cautiously in Spring Training in Arizona, but used the extra time from the COVID-19 shutdown to further strengthen his arm and is throwing well in Summer Camp and was sitting at 92-94 mph with his fastball on Sunday.

Now he’ll take the next step, and it’s a doozy, jumping into the rotation in the second game of the season on Saturday against right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. and the defending American League-champion Astros.

“They have a really good team, and I’m definitely excited to go out and see where my stuff is against a different team,” he said. “It feels good right now, but the Astros have won the World Series, they have a really good lineup. They’re deep. So I’m excited to face them.”

It'll be Walker’s first time pitching at Minute Maid Park since a 9-5 loss with the D-backs on Aug. 16, 2017, and he’s 3-4 with a 5.79 ERA in eight career starts in Houston.

But manager Scott Servais says that Walker appears to be a far more mature pitcher than when he left Seattle the first time, and it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out during this abbreviated campaign.

“I was just a kid going through the motions,” Walker said. “Having the two years off just watching and being in Arizona, there were a lot of older veterans I was able to watch go about their business. Just sitting back and reflecting on the game and how my career had gone to that point, I knew I wanted to make a change and step up and be more of a leader.

“I just changed my game, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job with that. It’s going to show on the mound, too, just my mentality. I’m way different than when I was here last.”