Phillies rookie's first MLB start should have Taijuan Walker shaking in his cleats

Michael Mercado notched his first MLB win in Tuesday night's victory in Chicago.
Philadelphia Phillies starter Michael Mercado
Philadelphia Phillies starter Michael Mercado / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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The road to a major league mound wasn't always a quick or easy one for Michael Mercado, but he has found his path with the Philadelphia Phillies. The 25-year-old pitched well enough with Triple-A Lehigh Valley to warrant a call-up when Taijuan Walker was placed on the injured list with a finger issue.

Just a few days after his first relief appearance, the versatile Mercado found out he would be moving to the starting rotation after Spencer Turnbull was diagnosed with a right lat strain, which will sideline the right-hander for about six weeks.

Mercado made his first start on a big-league mound on Tuesday night in Chicago. He walked away with the win — the first of his MLB career — while pitching effectively and setting himself up to remain in the rotation during the Phillies' recent bout with the injury bug.

Michael Mercado's first MLB start should have Taijuan Walker shaking in his cleats

For his first start, Mercado pitched well. The rookie threw 78 pitches over five innings, allowing just one earned run. He surrendered two hits and issued two free passes while striking out four Chicago Cubs hitters.

Mercado mixed four pitches at Wrigley Field. He threw his four-seamer and cutter just under 75 percent of the time but effectively used his curveball with about 25 percent of his pitches. The curveball and occasional changeup kept hitters off balance, but his fastball mix garnered all four of his strikeouts.

After his outing, Mercado spoke about his performance and about his resiliency in the first inning after allowing two runners to reach base.

“Throw it in the zone and see what happens," Mercado said of his strategy, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com.

The quote may sound simple, but heading into his start, one of the areas in which the Cubs believed they could get to Mercado was if he struggled to find the strike zone.

"He did a good enough job throwing strikes," said Cubs manager Craig Counsell, per Zolecki. "That was something maybe we had a chance at, I thought, facing him. But he did a good enough job throwing strikes. He got through the first inning. We had some good swings the first inning. We had good at-bats the first inning. We hit some balls hard the first inning."

The fact that Mercado was able to limit walks and command the zone kept the Cubs off the bases for his next four innings for the most part. Pitching effectively like he did on Tuesday should give the Phillies confidence in the right-hander's abilities.

With the struggling Walker expected to return before Turnbull, it will be interesting to see what the organization decides to do with Mercado. If he remains effective, will he force the team's hand in keeping him in the rotation, or will the money and investments owed to Walker send Mercado back to the bullpen? Time will tell, but for Mercado, he made a strong first impression.

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