Going into the offseason following the 2022 season, the Philadelphia Phillies remained eager to add to a team that was able to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009. While adding superstar shortstop Trea Turner on an 11-year contract worth $300 million was the headlining move of the offseason for the Phillies, they also added another starting pitcher to the roster in Taijuan Walker, signing the former New York Met to a four-year $72 million deal on December sixth.
While Taijuan Walker may not be the first pitcher on the Phillies roster to move between the two NL East squads, Walker was the first to be signed by current Phillies President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski. The team added Zack Wheeler before the 2020 season, and he would find himself finishing 2nd in NL Cy Young voting in 2021. Wheeler also has over 500 strikeouts in his first three seasons as a member of the Phillies, with an ERA of 2.92 or lower in each of those campaigns.
Walker does not come to Philadelphia with Cy Young award expectations, but he doesn't need them to be able to maximize his contribution to the team. This could have shown through early in Walker's Phillies debut as he returned to New York to play to Yankees in the Bronx. While the game ultimately ended in an 8-1 defeat for Walker and the Phillies, Walker showed how he can be successful in 2023 as soon as the Phillies shake off their early-season rust
Despite picking up a loss, Taijuan Walker showed signs of promise for a solid 2023 season
Taijuan Walker's debut in a Phillies uniform got off to a less-than-ideal start when he, like the rest of us, could only watch as Yankee's leadoff batter D. J. LeMahieu hit a ball that missed the glove of outfielder Brandon Marsh by mere inches. Walker did a good job of getting two strikes against LeMahieu, but the infielder still made it all the way to third before the Phillies could record an out in the Bronx.
Starting off the ball game with a runner on third, Walker did a good job of shaking off the rust and getting himself into damage-control mode. He walked the next two batters he faced, Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, but was still challenging batters. He had two strikes again against Judge and Rizzo, but a few pitches barely missing to zone left Walker with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning of his very first appearance in a Phillies uniform.
This is where Walker was able to calm down and get himself in a position to avoid the game essentially being over for the Phillies before it even got to the second inning. The next batter up for the Yankees was Giancarlo Stanton, who has ten grand slams in his career. Walker was able to get Stanton to ground out, and despite a runner scoring and the defense being unable to turn the grounder for two outs, he still lured Stanton into a groundout with his low slider.
The next batter Walker faced was second baseman Gleyber Torres, who was able to single after Walker pitched him a pair of low splitters, and that was enough to bring Judge home and give the Yanks a 2-0 lead over the Phils. Walker then finished out the first inning by recording a fly out, walk, and a groundout against New York's sixth, seventh, and eighth batters.
To start the second inning, Walker came out strong. He recorded a pair of groundouts from rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe, as well as LeMahieu when the top of the opposing batting lineup cycled back through. Walker finished the second inning by striking out Aaron Judge swinging, and the second inning was one of two innings Walker was able to get three outs in order, and he did it in the second inning in just nine pitches.
Aside from the first inning, the lone run allowed by Walker was a third-inning home run from Torres, who was responsible for two of the four hits allowed by Walker in the ballgame. Overall, Walker finished the day pitching four complete innings, which ended when Walker was replaced in the fifth innings. Before he left the game, Walker was still able to get one last strikeout, as Judge again went down swinging for the Yankees.
All in all, Walker had a very solid debut, despite what the scoreboard suggests. Facing a team that reached the ALCS in 2022 in their home stadium (with a notoriously short porch) in your first start with a new team is no small task, and we can't help but believe it would've been a much better outing if the Phillies did not commit a defensive error allowing the Yankees very first batter of the night to reach third base.
Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies should be excited about Walker going forward, regardless of not meeting expectations in the win column in his first outing. He displayed the ability to diversify his pitches, with his 4-seam fastball, splitter, slider, and sinker each accounting for at least 17% percent of his pitches on Monday, according to baseballsavant.com. Taijuan Walker has a career ERA of 3.91 and a WHIP of 1.23. It is not unreasonable to believe the 30-year-old right-hander can improve on that now that he finally has a long-term home in Philadelphia.