Mets' Taijuan Walker's hot start no surprise to himself: 'I know what I can do'

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Taijuan Walker delivers pitch to home vs. Orioles
Taijuan Walker delivers pitch to home vs. Orioles

When the Mets signed Taijuan Walker this offseason, he was viewed as a depth rotation piece. He showed a solid stretch with the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of last season, but other than that, the 28-year-old didn’t garner too much attention from teams looking for pitching until New York came in at the last minute.

Now, that “depth rotation piece” owns a 2.20 ERA after back-to-back seven-inning starts and is looking more like No. 2 option for the blue and orange.

So does Walker think he’s proving people wrong right now?

“I don’t know. I know what I did last year. I know it’s my second year coming off Tommy John. I feel confident in myself, I felt confident last year,” Walker told the media after the Mets’ 7-1 win over the Orioles on Thursday, extending their win streak to seven games. “I showed that I had a couple more pitches. And this year, my only focus is to go out there and help the team win ballgames. Try to go deep in the games and that’s all I’m doing. I don’t care if I’m proving people wrong or not. I know what I can do, and the Mets believe in me. They know what I can do, too.”

Walker has been exceeding expectations thus far, and it certainly showed in his one-hit outing against the St. Louis Cardinals last week. But he followed that up on Thursday afternoon with another seven innings, allowing one run on four hits and three walks while striking out four. He had some solid defensive plays behind him, which he was super appreciative of. But the movement on his pitches was working along with the location of them to stymie the O’s hitters.

It also helped that the Mets got out to a hot start against Matt Harvey.

“When we score runs, my job is to go out there and put up a shutdown inning,” Walker said. “To get a shutdown inning, you just gotta attack the zone, fill up the zone and make them put the ball in play. When we get a good cushion, there’s no reason to pick around and try to strike out everyone and nibble the corners. Just go right after them.”

In the past, going after hitters for Walker meant throwing a plus-fastball by them if he could. But Luis Rojas has seen Walker become more of a pitcher instead of a thrower on the bump, and it’s working to the Mets advantage.

“I think he’s become more of a pitcher just by the usage of the different pitches that he’s been working on and getting better to use them in different counts,” Rojas explained. “The usage of his splitter in different counts, the usage of his slider. Now being able to locate the fastball up and run it in sometimes to a righty like he does, or do a front hip to a lefty. He did all that today.”

Walker added: “Yeah. I had a good little stretch I felt good last year, but this year I think I’m just feeling healthy again. Feeling confident in all of my pitches.”

Going forward, the Mets would surely love Walker to accumulate as many innings as he could because the bullpen has already been used a fair amount early this campaign. But the last time he even topped 150 innings was back in 2017 with the Seattle Mariners. Tommy John surgery and the shortened 2020 season was the cause of that.

However, Walker has full confidence he can hit that 150 mark and even more – whatever the Mets need.

“I feel confident I can pitch all year.”

If he continues doing so like this, the Mets would love that.

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