Diamondbacks’ Blake Walston focused on trusting his stuff to improve control

Jun 1, 2024, 11:31 AM

Blake Walston...

Blake Walston #48 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a fourth inning pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chase Field on May 01, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. It is Walston's first career MLB game. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation is much different than what the organization envisioned with a much heavier emphasis on youth. Zac Gallen joined Merrill Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez on the injured list Friday, leaving Jordan Montgomery as the lone starter with more than two full seasons of experience.

That’s where left-hander Blake Walston fits in, as he is set to make his second MLB start against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday.

Walston is the least MLB-experienced arm in the rotation but held his own over his first two tests. Arizona threw him into the fire against the Dodgers out of the bullpen on May 1, and he shut out the Marlins through 4.2 innings in a start on Sunday.

The 22-year-old and 2019 first-round pick told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo the key for him is trusting his stuff to play, something he’s focused on after walks heavily impacted his 2023 season for Triple-A Reno.

“I knew (walks) hurt me last year,” Walston said. “Dealing with the automatic strike zone was a little different. My misses weren’t super big misses, but in the big leagues, the zone is still tight. I had to really focus in on trying to get myself back into the middle of the plate and not being so timid on if damage were to happen.

“Rely on my stuff rather than trying to be all nitpicky and spot up. A lot of it too is trusting your mechanics, everything is in sync and your ball is gonna go where your mind tells it to.”

The southpaw walked 93 batters to only 104 strikeouts in 149.1 innings for Reno last season. He managed to keep the runs down with a 4.52 ERA in a tough pitching environment, but giving opponents that many free passes will not fly in the majors.

He saw that firsthand against the Dodgers when he delivered three scoreless innings before walking three batters in his fourth frame. That led to two earned runs. Arizona sent him back down right after, but he came back up and walked one batter against Miami.

“I felt like I used that in the right way trying to figure out how to make myself better by getting ahead of guys and attacking hitters because at the end of the day, it’s the same ballgame,” Walston said. “It’s just the bigger atmosphere and more people. … I feel like I’ve adjusted to it now. Just gotta focus on what your task is.”

Walston said he has tried to move away from making too many mechanical tweaks and focus instead on being athletic, getting down the hill with force.

Jeff Bajenaru, Reno’s pitching coach, has worked with Walston for years.

His perspective is Walston would rather take a chance selling out for the strikeout and risk walking a batter than grooving a fastball.

“I can respect that, but at the same time, he’s got to be able to find a way to land those pitches and keep the walks down,” Bajenaru told Arizona Sports on Friday.

“He knows, this is not a surprise. His stuff was good enough to be a major league pitcher. He’s got five to six pitches. He sprinkles in the cutter and sinker at times and two plus breaking balls. His fastball can play. He can run it up there to 92-94 mph when he wants to. He can live in 90 mph too, sometimes. I think he’s got a good enough pitch mix to help the club.”

Walston’s pitch mix has evolved to deepen his arsenal. He added a cutter last year that is an option to get in on righties along with a slider. He has thrown five pitches in the big leagues so far.

Walston’s parents made it … eventually

Walston compared his first MLB experience to walking into the Roman Coliseum.

“I was going in a gladiator war. You run out of the dugout and it is like ‘holy crap’ but just locked it in … it was incredible, though.”

Walston said he wished his parents could have seen the debut, but his father drove to the wrong airport in a haste after Walston’s call-up.

“He was driving all the way to South Carolina and his flight was in North Carolina,” Walston said.

He caught his son’s first start, though.

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