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Diamondbacks can exhale as Christian Walker dodges injury after hit by pitch

Christian Walker popped out of the clubhouse on Friday afternoon for a quick photo shoot with Rawlings, the company that has bestowed a Gold Glove Award on the Diamondbacks’ first baseman each of the past two seasons.

It served as a reminder of what Walker means to his baseball team — and why the hit by pitch he sustained on Thursday afternoon felt so potentially damaging for the Diamondbacks’ season.

As it turned out, it looked far scarier than it was. Walker came away from it unscathed, other than a little swelling on the back of his right hand.

He admitted on Friday to having been concerned in the moments immediately after he was clipped by a 92 mph fastball from Giants right-hander Ryan Walker.

He looked angry and frustrated as he made his way off the field.

“Honestly, it was pain management,” Walker said of his reaction. “It was really painful. It started throbbing immediately. Sometimes, you can tell pretty early — in the seconds right after is when I get the best judge if something is really wrong or not — but for whatever reason that one was hard to tell yesterday.”

Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker during spring training workouts at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale on Feb. 22, 2024.
Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker during spring training workouts at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale on Feb. 22, 2024.

Luckily for both Walker and the Diamondbacks, both X-rays and an MRI revealed no new damage in his hand.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said he thought Walker's hand was broken and he was relieved to get the medical update. He also confirmed that Walker took a few ground balls off a machine at the team facility.

"It's a contusion on the back of his right hand and he's day to day. There was imaging and we dug in as deep as we possibly could and did as much as we could to make sure that there was no broken bones and we dodged the bullet there," Lovullo said. "So we feel very, very fortunate about that, but he's day to day and we'll be putting him back in there at some point when it's the right time."

Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker (53) hits a single during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers in game four of the 2023 World Series at Chase Field in Phoenix on Oct. 31, 2023.
Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker (53) hits a single during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers in game four of the 2023 World Series at Chase Field in Phoenix on Oct. 31, 2023.

Walker is one of only a handful of players the Diamondbacks seemingly cannot afford to lose. He hits in the heart of their lineup and provides consistently tenacious at-bats. He is their key power source and run producer. He plays terrific defense at first base.

To be sure, every club has players it cannot reasonably expect to replace. If those guys go down — and, for the Diamondbacks, that list includes outfielder Corbin Carroll, second baseman Ketel Marte, catcher Gabriel Moreno and pitchers Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly — a team has to just do its best to fill in the gaps.

But for the way the Diamondbacks are constructed, it feels like Walker is especially valuable. The club has strong outfield depth. If a middle infielder were to go down, prospect Jordan Lawlar could step in. It seems possible the Diamondbacks will enter the season with enviable rotation depth.

But there is no obvious candidate to replace Walker’s power, at-bat quality and defense.

Pavin Smith and Emmanuel Rivera are probably the cleanest, simplest replacements. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is a former infielder who has played a little first in his career and could probably be comfortable there. Joc Pederson has experience at the position, as well.

The injury scare also puts a spotlight on Walker’s impending free agency, though the club, of course, would have an offseason to figure out a Plan B if it can’t re-sign him. To that end, it is worth noting that even now the free-agent market remains well-stocked — unusually so, given that spring training is well underway — and the Diamondbacks could still go out and find a replacement.

A year ago, the Diamondbacks managed to avoid catastrophe on the injury front. They lost Kelly and Moreno each for about a month. Carroll dealt with figurative bumps and bruises. But they avoided disaster — and, undoubtedly, their relative health played a part in their ability to first reach, and then thrive in, October.

The news on Walker, who thinks he could return to action in a matter of days, is their first opportunity to exhale as they look to avoid the injury bug once again.

—Jose M. Romero contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Diamondbacks can exhale as Christian Walker dodges injury after HBP