It would seem we have reached the if-the-season-ended-today-which-is-silly-because-it doesn’t-and-everything-can-still-change-in-a-heartbeat portion of the schedule.
In that vein, a debate has apparently entered the civic bloodstream about which starting pitchers currently in the Phillies rotation should stay and which should be pushed aside in the postseason. Which, first, assumes they continue to play well enough over the remaining five-and-a-half-weeks – a.k.a. a lifetime in baseball terms – to hold their spot on the guest list.
Taijuan Walker, who made his first start in 10 days Tuesday night against the Giants, is a walking, talking, righthanded-throwing illustration of why that sort of speculation falls somewhere between premature and nonsensical. It also explains why every nuance of his outing was sure to be dissected more thoroughly as a frog in a high school biology class.
Would the Phillies get the veteran who won his 13th game by the first week of August? Or the one whose velocity had dipped so alarmingly by his last assignment that a decision was made to essentially give him the equivalent of one skipped start. Just guessing, but the answer to those questions just might impact his role in October.
Walker’s five innings in a come-from-behind, 4-3 walk-off win over the Giants didn’t solve the riddle.
For those who prefer to see the dugout Gatorade dispenser as half full, he gave up only two earned runs. He walked two and struck out seven. His velocity was up slightly.
Count manager Rob Thomson and Walker himself among that group.
“I thought he was good,” Thomson said. “Velocity was pretty good. His split was effective and he threw strikes for the most part.”
The manager said he was “extremely” encouraged that Walker was past whatever issues had dogged him his last few starts.
Said Walker: “I felt a lot better. Rejuvenated. After 10 days I was out of whack a little bit, but everything felt good.”
He added that he’s “very confident” he’s put whatever problems he was experiencing behind him.
For those inclined to the more pessimistic interpretation, his four-seam fastball topped out at 94.3 miles per hour, according to Statcast. More concerning, it was down to 91.6 by the fifth, which is at the upper edge of the range he was throwing August 12 (90 to 92), after which it was decided that he needed extra rest.
It’s also significant that only 10 of his 89 pitches were four-seam fastballs. After his previous start he estimated that, when he feels confident with the pitch, he throws it about 40 percent of the time.
To be fair, there is some disagreement on definition. By the team’s estimation sinkers, splitters and cutters can also be described as fastballs.
Walker said he’ll be ready to make his next start on regular rest. Maybe a more clear-cut picture will develop then.
NOTES ON A SCORECARD
The Phillies have had a problem with outfield communications all year and it happened again in the eighth inning Tuesday night when Luis Matos hit a line drive to right-center that fell between Brandon Marsh and Nick Castellanos, Both outfielders pulled up at the last moment, allowing the ball to drop for a double.
Bryce Harper homered in the first inning after an inside-the-park home run on Monday. It was the first time he’s homered in consecutive games since June 8-9, 2022. Harper also has six homers in his last 15 games after hitting just five in his first 77 games.
Harper started at DH for the sixth time in the last nine games Tuesday night as he continues to battle lower back stiffness. “It’s a little tight,” Rob Thomson said. “He’s fine. I just want to make sure he stays fine. At first base you’re bending over pre-pitch, 150 or 160 times a game and then having to move.”
Reliever Jose Alvarado made his first appearance Tuesday night since July 6 Tuesday night after being activated from the IL (elbow inflammation) on Sunday. He pitched a scoreless seventh, walking one and striking out two.