SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Right-hander Taijuan Walker underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove 10 bone fragments from his right ankle in October, and he was admittedly nervous about the procedure.
It was the first time he has needed surgery during his career.
But upon the procedure’s culmination, he watched the video of it. He was curious to see how doctors finally fixed his ankle and alleviated the nagging pain he had felt for months.
“This is one of those freak injuries that I couldn’t control, I guess I was born with an extra bone in my foot,” said Walker, who was traded to the Diamondbacks from Seattle in November. “It just kind of broke off and was there, I guess. I don’t know.”
Despite the ankle, the 24-year-old Walker went 8-11 with a 4.22 ERA in 25 starts last season. Walker, who joins a Diamondbacks pitching staff that had a league-worst 5.09 team ERA, said he had multiple cortisone injections to ease the pain. While those helped a bit, the injury continued to bother him.
“I had a pretty big bone rubbing against my Achilles every time I’d push off or walk,” Walker said. “It wasn’t fun.”
The Diamondbacks signed catcher Chris Iannetta in January. Iannetta was Walker’s catcher when the two were in Seattle last season and witnessed his situation firsthand.
He said Walker tried to rehab the injury before his starts throughout the season. However, surgery then became the best option as Walker wanted to be healthy long-term.
Walker missed starts and was even optioned to the minor leagues in 2016. But it wasn’t for lack of effort.
“Any time a guy goes out there and plays through pain and puts the team first, you really appreciate that,” Iannetta said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a veteran, you obviously take a lot of stock in that. You’re very thankful for a guy who’s going to compete and put the team first.”
Walker said he developed a few bad habits while trying to work around the pain. Not using his legs enough to push off the mound and getting off the rubber too early are two of them.
He said he is 100-percent healthy and ready to return to his normal self on the mound. Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher said Walker has looked good since pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 13.
“You don’t see any kind of limitations with the surgery,” Butcher said. “He looks healthy. He’s throwing the ball well in his bullpens. The biggest thing is that he’s moving around and he’s not having complaints about any residual effects from the ankle.”
Walker is working on new mechanics, like getting a full windup. Butcher said the next step is getting him to drive off the mound like he can.
He is also trying to add a sinker to get more ground balls in hitter-friendly Chase Field. And he developed a slider last year.
“It started as a cutter, but he put some work in during the middle of last season and started to get the hang of it towards the end of last year,” Iannetta said. “By this spring training, it looks great.”
Walker pitched an indoor session on a recent Sunday, another step in his post-surgery progress. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said all signs were positive.
“To me, from the bullpen sessions where it was more about getting familiar with his body after the surgery, (Sunday’s session) was about taking it to the next level,” Lovullo said. “His stuff looked really crisp.”