Walker whiffed on his chance to earn a start in the NLCS
The Phillies included the right-hander on each postseason roster but considered him a "bulk reliever" from the get-go, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi. When it looked like there was a chance for a fourth-starter in the NLCS, Walker and Cristopher Sánchez got looks in short simulated games.
After a month off from pitching, Walker didn't look sharp, according to Dombrowski, so he ended up back in the bullpen gathering dust while Sánchez took the ball for Game 4.
"It was just one of those days where we threw them out there," Dombrowski said. "They threw a couple of innings, Sánchez and he, and he was having a hard time that day throwing strikes."
Dombrowski also pointed out that as a starter, the 11-year veteran would have had a more challenging time getting ready to come into a game than the full-time relievers the Phillies had on hand.
"He's in a tough spot, it's different in the postseason, he's not a reliever, he takes a long time to warm up," Dombrowski explained. "But you need someone who can give you length if you run into extra innings. It's a tough position to be in, somebody's got to do it."
Between Walker's end-of-season struggles, the incredible performance of the other three starters and his rustiness, the Phillies' decision not to turn to him to start Game 4 against the Diamondbacks makes complete sense.
Athletes at the highest level are wired differently than the average person; they're ultra-competitive, want to compete and show what they can do in pressure-packed situations under which mere mortals would crumble.
Walker is entitled to his feelings — being the lone Phillie not to see the field puts him in a tough position for a professional athlete. Watching from the background as everyone else gets the call might be akin to being picked last for dodgeball teams in Grade 5 gym class.
But perhaps he didn't express those feelings in the most constructive or mature way, especially for someone who'll be in Philadelphia for another three years. He's expected to be a big part of the Phillies' rotation next season, which Dombrowski reiterated on Thursday.
"I like Taijuan Walker, I think he did a nice job," he said. "I look for him to be a real solid part of our rotation. I look for him to pitch well for us next year."
Some fences may have to be mended, but the Phillies don't seem concerned — maybe Walker shouldn't be either. Hopefully, he uses this experience as motivation to ensure they never leave him out of the postseason mix again.