Walker returns with 'good life' as Phils complete the sweep

April 29th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- ’s right shoulder passed its first test of 2024. His reflexes? Grade them A-plus.

Walker tossed 6 1/3 innings in his season debut as the Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Padres with an 8-6 victory on Sunday afternoon at Petco Park. The right-hander, who missed the start of the year because of a right shoulder impingement, endured a pair of three-run innings in an outing that was better than his final stat line.

“Everything felt good,” Walker said. “The splitter wasn’t very good today, but I threw the slider well. Had two walks, and those two walks extended the innings. I got hurt by it. I had good life; ball was coming out well.”

Two of the 19 outs Walker recorded came thanks to those sharp reflexes.

With Xander Bogaerts at first base and nobody out in the bottom of the second, Padres rookie Jackson Merrill hit a 73.4 mph liner up the middle. Walker, facing first base after the momentum of his delivery, reached his glove hand behind his back and snared the ball in the air below his backside.

As third baseman Alec Bohm shouted and pointed to first base, Walker casually gathered himself and threw to Bryce Harper to complete the double play.

“I didn’t have time to turn and get there, so I kind of just stuck my glove there,” Walker said. “I think I was as surprised as anybody else.”

Count second baseman among those surprised. He said he didn’t realize immediately what had happened and looked toward shortstop Trea Turner to try to find the ball.

“I was confused. I think everyone was confused,” said Stott, who enjoyed his first multihomer game in the Majors to lead the offense. “They’re pretty good at fielding their position.”

Walker averaged 91.1 mph with his four-seam fastball, in line with his Minor League rehab outings but down 1.7 mph from last season. He threw only 12 splitters -- his signature pitch -- and only two of those during his first trip through the Padres’ lineup.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson was pleased with Walker’s stuff, but he still doesn’t have clarity about his rotation beyond the next three games. Thomson said Spencer Turnbull (1.33 ERA) will get another start Tuesday against the Angels. But the manager reiterated that a six-man rotation is not in play because of upcoming off-days in May.

Who will get squeezed out then won’t be clear until the Phillies no longer can delay that decision. But Walker has a passing grade to his credit as Thomson weighs his options.

“I thought he was good,” Thomson said. “I was encouraged by the velocity. … Threw strikes. For his first outing of the season, I thought it was fine.”

Through Walker’s first 89 pitches, the Phillies were up, 7-3. But No. 90 was a 91.1 sinker above the knees that Luis Campusano yanked to left-center field for a three-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning. Before that, Walker saw little trouble -- evidenced by the fact the Phillies’ bullpen didn’t stir until that inning, even though it was his season debut.

Walker had room for error as Philadelphia’s offense continued its onslaught of late. While winning 11 of their past 13 games, the Phillies have averaged 5.9 runs per game. During the current four-game winning streak, they have scored 27 runs and hit 10 home runs. J.T. Realmuto had the Phillies’ final homer on Sunday.

“Every day, every night, it’s a new pitcher shutting down an inning,” Stott said of the Phillies’ surge. “It’s a new hitter driving guys in. That’s what you need as a team, one through nine, and winning all types of different games. … Learning how to win each type of game is huge.”