Mets' Taijuan Walker talks rough patch: 'The long ball has been killing me'

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Taijuan Walker day game against Blue Jays July 2021 closeup
Taijuan Walker day game against Blue Jays July 2021 closeup

Mets right-hander Taijuan Walker had his third straight tough start on Thursday against the Braves at Citi Field, allowing five runs in five innings.

After the game, Walker -- who was victimized by two home runs in the fourth inning and some soft contact in the fifth -- talked about what has gone wrong lately.

"I mean, for me it’s two things" Walker told reporters via Zoom. "One, the long ball has been killing me. And two, it’s just my pitch selection. The two home runs today, just not trusting myself. When you do that and throw a pitch without conviction, there’s nothing behind it.

"If I have a pitch in mind, I need to just stick with it. Be confident in it instead of just throwing something up there. That necessarily isn’t what I need to throw, but what I want to throw."

The first home run Walker gave up on Thursday -- a two-run shot by Austin Riley -- was the first hit he allowed all game. Abraham Almonte added a solo shot later in the fourth.

During the first half of the season, Walker was one of the stingiest pitchers in baseball when it came to giving up home runs. But he has allowed five over his last two starts.

While he felt his stuff was "really good" on Thursday, Walker said the two pitches that led to the home runs killed him.

And he brought it back to not having conviction.

Jul 29, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Citi Field.
Jul 29, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Citi Field.

"There’s nothing behind it and hitters can see that," Walker said. "When I throw a four-seam [fastball] up or in, when I throw it with conviction, hitters can see it. Hitters can feel that and it’s a different feeling than when I just throw a pitch I don’t want to know or there’s nothing behind it. It just doesn’t have the same movement, the same kinda carry. A little bit of everything into it."

Walker, who threw just 53.1 innings during the shortened 2020 season after throwing 1.0 inning in 2019 and 13.0 innings in 2018, has already thrown 99.1 innings this season. But he did not seem too worried that the increase in innings was causing his struggles.

Speaking after the game, Mets manager Luis Rojas said Walker looked better Thursday than he did his last two times out -- which included his 0.1 inning stint against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and last week's start against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citi Field.

"I think he pitched a lot better than the previous two outings," Rojas said. "This was similar to the Taijuan we’ve seen for the most part this season. The fastball carry was there. For me, that was my only concern not seeing the last few games. The four-seam wasn’t carrying. It was carrying today."