Injured Phillies starter might return sooner than first expected

With Taijuan Walker closer to returning than expected, it looks like the Phillies' starting rotation will be fully healthy soon.
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Taijuan Walker could return to the rotation sooner than first expected
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Taijuan Walker could return to the rotation sooner than first expected / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

When Philadelphia Phillies starter Taijuan Walker went down with a right shoulder impingement prior to the start of the MLB season, it was expected he would be out for a while. Recent news out of Walker’s camp has revealed that he could actually be making his return earlier than expected, per's Todd Zolecki.

The original plan was for Walker to make three to four rehab starts and reach the threshold of 100 pitches before the Phillies would consider bringing him back to rejoin the rotation around late April or early May. 

However, it appears as though plans have changed following Walker’s most recent rehab start with the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

In just his second start since his injury, he threw 78 pitches and went 4 2/3 innings, giving up one earned run on three hits with three walks and one strikeout. Per Zolecki, Walker's fastball averaged close to 91 mph, with his highest touching 92 mph, which is a little off from the usual 93-94 mph that he has averaged in the previous two seasons.

After the start, Walker met with Phillies manager Rob Thomson and the team’s athletic training staff on Wednesday. According to Matt Gelb of The Athletic, Walker indicated to the Phillies that he felt good, with his pitch count exactly where he wanted it (subscription required).

“I told them I felt good,” Walker said, per Gelb. “Yeah, I told them we built up enough. I thought my stuff was pretty sharp yesterday. Got outs, you know. I mean, I believe that in a different environment, a little more adrenaline, stuff just plays up a little bit more.”

Injured Phillies starter Taijuan Walker might return soon

The Phillies intend to have Walker throw a bullpen session on Friday before making the decision on whether he is ready to be activated from the IL. If all goes well, he could be back as soon as next week.

When Walker officially returns to the starting rotation, the Phillies have yet to decide whether he will take Spencer Turnbull’s spot in the rotation, given how well Turnbull has performed, or whether they will go with a temporary six-man rotation until things eventually work themselves out. But Walker, appears ready and confident to retake his spot in the rotation no matter what.

“I'm ready to compete. I want to go out there every fifth day," Walker said, per Zolecki. My role is to come here and throw innings. And I know I can go throw good innings. But my role is to take the ball every fifth day. Be that bridge.

"You know, we have three solid pitchers -- really, I mean, ace-type pitchers. Turnbull, Sanchy [Cristopher Sánchez]. Like, we have guys. And my job is to try to get as many innings in and save the bullpen.”

Walker had an inconsistent up-and-down first season with the Phillies in 2023, going from leading the team in wins during the regular season with 15 to riding the bench during the playoffs. He certainly hopes to make amends this season and help the team get back to the postseason. And with the way he believes that his rehab has been positively progressing, he could be embarking on that quest soon.