From Zack Greinke to Shelby Miller, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting pitchers went through their shares of ups and, mostly, downs throughout last season.
That’s why the new front office prioritized adding options to the pitching staff this offseason. The biggest move in that direction, a trade with the Seattle Mariners to acquire pitcher Taijuan Walker, has question marks not so dissimilar to those surrounding the returning D-backs pitchers.
In his second full season as an MLB starter, Walker fought the injury bug that required offseason foot surgery and in 2016 also struggled to the point he was demoted to the minor leagues. He returned, continued to struggle for three more games but then closed the season with four wins — half of the total victories during his 8-11 year — in five games.
Joining the Bickley and Marotta show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Tuesday, Walker admitted he’s looking for an improved attitude on the mound. In an odd kind of way, it’s about letting emotion get to him.
“One thing I really got to work on is kind of get more of an attitude, I guess. I’m always happy, I’m always smiling, I’m always having fun,” Walker said. “The biggest thing is trying to, I guess, be mean out there on the mound. There have been times where I have been, but that’s when something during the game makes me mad. Then I start to turn stuff up instead of, you know, doing it from the get-go. That’s the one thing I think I need to learn how to do.
“Talking with (catcher) Chris Iannetta, he had me last year, and he goes, ‘We got to figure something to piss you off. Do I have to punch you in the gut, do I have to kick you in the head?’ So if I can find that — and even talking with (pitching coach Mike) Butcher, that’s the biggest thing. Try to find something that triggers that.”
Walker, who is 24 years old, finished his 2016 campaign with a 4.22 ERA.
He began red-hot, going at least six frames in his first four starts while tallying a 1.44 ERA through April. But then, Walker lost five of six games in May, continued to be hit-and-miss in June and played just one game in July.
When he returned from the disabled list in August, he lasted one start before spending the next two weeks in the minors. Then came the three consecutive losses prior to the 4-1 finish to the year.
“He’s sort of like a prototypical starting pitcher that you want to have in your rotation,” D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said on Thanksgiving eve after Arizona acquired Walker. “He’s still growing into his abilities as a starter pitcher. He’s still going to be 24 this year, which I think from a starting pitching standpoint is still young in terms of development and where he is.”
The 6-foor-4, 220 pounder struck out almost eight batters per nine innings in 2016 and despite the inconsistent fastball showed reasonable control in his walking 2.48 batters per nine.
No longer a Mariner, Walker is still shaping his game. As far as developing a little mean streak into his attitude, Walker looks to former Seattle teammate Felix Hernandez as an example.
“He turns it on. Once it’s game time, he just has that look on the face,” Walker said. “That’s something I’ve been working on.”
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