October 5, 2022

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Walker shines in return from IL

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NEW YORK — Jacob deGrom’s absence from the Mets’ rotation left a sizeable hole, which Tylor Megill has filled with aplomb. So much attention has been paid to that situation, and rightfully so, that it was almost easy to forget the Mets played most of April without another piece of their season-opening rotation, as well.

That rotation member, Taijuan Walker, returned from an 18-day absence on Saturday with relatively little fanfare. But he still represents a significant part of the Mets’ pitching puzzle, as he demonstrated with five shutout innings in his return from the injured list. The Mets later fell to the Phillies, 4-1 at Citi Field, but that was through no fault of their starting pitcher.

“I felt really good out there,” Walker said. “Just the shoulder feeling good, and to get through five innings finally and feel good with it — my shoulder feels great right now, my knee feels great. I’m looking forward to getting into my routine.”

Making his first start since the April 11 game that saw him leave due to a tender right shoulder, Walker retired the side in order in the first before running into a bit more resistance over the rest of his outing. Two walks and two hits marred Walker’s line, and the damage could have been worse had hard-hit balls from Kyle Schwarber or Bryce Harper resulted in damage. As it was, Walker increased his season total to seven scoreless innings.

More importantly, he proved that he’s healthy following a disjointed start to the year. When Walker reported to Spring Training, he revealed that he underwent a right knee debridement procedure over the offseason. That operation put his early April status in doubt, especially when Walker reported knee soreness during his final spring start. He managed to make the Opening Day roster anyway, only to complain of shoulder soreness — the official diagnosis was bursitis — following his debut.

Now, all of that is in the past. Walker will make another start in the Mets’ rotation turn in five days’ time against this same Phillies team. And the Mets hope he will remain a member of their rotation from that point onward.

“It’s good to see him get back in the fight with us,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Hopefully, he’s put himself in a position to contribute.”

Showalter also hopes that Walker’s next outing will go better for the team. Schwarber hit a two-run homer off Adam Ottavino in the seventh inning to tilt the outcome away from the Mets, whose lone bright spot was Walker’s return from injury. After throwing 73 pitches in the effort, Walker said he should be back to full strength by early May.

“I think I’ll have one more outing where I’m limited a little bit as far as pitch count,” Walker said. “But after that, I feel like I’ll be ready to go six, seven innings and keep up with our starters right now. Everyone’s going deep into games, so that’s kind of the goal for me right now.”

The night’s winning pitcher (James Norwood) and losing pitcher (Ottavino) were both born in New York City, prompting a bit of trivia. It was the first time that had happened since Aug. 12, 1998, when John Frascatore of Queens defeated John Franco of Brooklyn in a Cardinals win over the Mets in St. Louis.

Norwood, who was born and raised in Manhattan and attended high school in the Bronx, was pitching a Major League game within the five boroughs for the first time in his career. Ottavino was also born in Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn.

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