By Joe Rini
Overcoming Tommy John surgery in 2018, Taijuan Walker thrives for the 2022 New York Mets. After starting 93 games before age 25, injuries derailed his career for two years. However, ten seasons and four teams into his major league career, the 29-year-old Walker is pitching the best ball of his career. Sporting a 7-2 record and a 2.86 ERA in 2022, he’s a bulwark in the starting rotation for the first-place Mets.
LWOB chatted with Walker at Citi Field before the Mets’ 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers on July 3. Among other things, Walker discussed the ordeal of returning from injury, the rigors of a long season, and matching up against Justin Verlander.
Listen to Your Body
Walker’s return from injury seemed complete last season when he was selected to the NL All-Star team in July. Unfortunately, he struggled after the All-Star Game, losing his last eight decisions as his ERA skyrocketed from 2.66 to 4.47. Fatigue played a factor. “The second half wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” he acknowledged. Going from 50 innings pitched in 2020 to 160 innings in 2021 took its toll on him. “Whether I wanted to admit it or not, it does play a factor in having a full season, a full season of a grind,” which he hadn’t experienced since 2017.
Does Walker worry about future injuries? No, but he’s diligent about taking care of himself. “You always want to listen to your body,” Walker explained. “As a pitcher, we do something that’s not natural,” namely, throwing a ball overhand at maximum effort. “You have to go out there and put in the work to stay healthy and go out and compete.”
Walker said a pitcher has to take care of himself the whole season. “You can’t slack off, especially in the second half. That’s when guys get tested. You really have to stay in your routines. Stay with your workouts and the recovery of it, too.” A pitcher has to be aware of how he’s feeling each day and adapt his routine to address it.
Taijuan Walker Thrives in Absence of Aces
LWOB asked Walker about carrying more of the load in the absence of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer but he didn’t see it that way. “You have to go out there and stick to your game plan and stick to your strengths.” Speaking of pitching without deGrom and Scherzer in the rotation, “We’re not going to go out there and throw 103 MPH. We’re not going to have the nasty stuff like that. We stick to our strength, all of our starters. We’re good. We’re up here for a reason. We know we can go up there and compete.”
Mets fans on Twitter may suffer every loss but Walker takes a more level-headed approach. “It’s just a long season. Teams get hot. The (Atlanta) Braves won 14 straight. What are you going to do? That’s just baseball. We can go on a 20-game run and be up 20 games.”
Walker stated, “If we continue to win series, we’ll be fine. That’s all you can do. Win series and you’ll be in a good spot at the end of the year,” competing for a playoff spot.
Recently, Walker matched zeroes against Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros. When asked if he was “amped up” for the Verlander showdown, Walker said no. “You really have to stay within yourself.” Looking back, he said, “When I was younger, I used to do that,” letting the crowd or the game affect him and causing him to overthrow. “I learned it never works out for you, so you have to keep your same routines.”
After years of injuries and recovery, Taijuan Walker thrives for the 2022 Mets. While he has a player option for 2023, he could opt for free agency. If he chooses free agency, the Mets should sign him long-term. If Walker duplicates his early success in the second half of 2022, he could be in the rotation for years to come.