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D-backs’ Taijuan Walker impressive in win vs. Chicago Cubs

Arizona Diamondbacks' Taijuan Walker, center, speaks with pitching coach Mike Butcher, left, during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Five days ago, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker grinded through a one-inning outing in his Cactus League debut.

On Sunday, he looked to be in midseason form.

Walker earned the win in the D-backs’ 2-0 victory against the Chicago Cubs in front of a sold-out crowd of 13,782 at Salt River Fields. Shortstop Nick Ahmed and center fielder Rey Fuentes each hit solo home runs to account for the scoring.

The D-backs had lost five straight games here in spring training.

Walker faced the minimum number of batters over three hitless and scoreless innings.

“I felt good,” he said. “Went out there, just attacked with the fastball. I think I threw all fastballs in the first inning. That’s kind of been the gameplan. I really want to get that fastball-command down and feel comfortable with it. And then, the second and third inning, we started mixing a little more off-speed pitches in there.”

Of Walker’s 36 pitches, 27 went for strikes, including seven first-pitch strikes. His fastball was consistently clocked in the mid-90s, topping out at 96.8 mph.

“Taijuan was just downhill with his fastball,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “Aggressive secondary stuff. I think his split(finger) had great command and late action on it. Really paced us and set a tone for the day.”

The only blemish on Walker’s outing was a fielding error by Ahmed that allowed Cubs shortstop Addison Russell to reach safely to begin the second inning. Russell, though, was erased two batters later when Walker induced center fielder Albert Almora Jr. to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Aside from that, Walker, entering his second season with the D-backs, was nearly flawless, striking out four of the nine batters faced.

“If I can go in-and-out (with my fastball), especially getting ahead early, too, then I have a couple of pitches where I can mix in there and get them to chase if I have to or just go back to pounding the zone,” he said.

Walker’s first spring appearance was cut short of the two-inning goal because of a high pitch-count. It was a different story this time around.

“I don’t really look at the numbers,” he said. “I look more at how I feel and how my pitches are coming out of my hand. I think that’s most important, especially this early in spring. Later, when we’re going five, six innings, then (results) might mean a little bit more but right now, just getting the feel and just getting into the swing of things.”

BASE HITS

— After playing five innings in left field on Saturday, Yasmany Tomas started in right field against the Cubs. It was another five-inning stint.

Tomas is one of the first position players to see action in back-to-back games.

“We’re at the point in camp now where I’m starting to think about back-to-backing guys, I’m thinking about getting them on the field, keeping a rhythm,” Lovullo said. “Those conversations are starting to happen with me reaching out to these guys. We feel like we have time. We’re piecing it together. But, it’s going to ramp up here in the next week or so.”

— Both right-handed relievers Archie Bradley and Yoshi Hirano made their third appearances of the spring. Both were scoreless outings.

Bradley went two innings, allowing one hit with one strikeout, while Hirano pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning.

Those two, along with fellow right-hander Brad Boxberger, are in close competition to be the closer.

“For me, it’s wide open. It’s still something where we are watching and evaluating,” Lovullo said. “I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve seen from the guys that have been throwing. Like I said from the get-go, the results aren’t necessarily going to be a huge factor for us right now. We are watching the stuff more than the results, so the stuff is coming out real clean for a lot of our pitchers right now.”

— Thus far, Boxberger has been limited to just one game. Some general soreness has kept him away from action. He did, however, throw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Sunday.

“I was there to watch it. It was very aggressive and looked good,” Lovullo said, adding the team will now reassess and determine Boxberger’s next step.

— Lovullo also said pitcher Randall Delgado is scheduled to throw an intrasquad game on Monday, and Jimmie Sherfy is expected to throw a bullpen in the coming days.

— Outfielder Jarrod Dyson may see his first playing time in the field on Monday when the D-backs visit the San Diego Padres in Peoria.

— Also on Monday, D-backs single-game tickets go on sale. They can be purchased at dbacks.com/tickets, at the Chase Field Ticket Office or by phone at (602) 514-8400.

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