Taijuan Walker didn’t want to be “too amped” up for his first start of the season at Citi Field.
The Mets right-hander may have been guilty of that, but found a way to use it to his advantage.
Walker came out firing with a little extra zip on his fastball and looked sharp in his Mets debut, throwing six strong innings before the Mets came back for a wild 3-2 win against the Marlins on Thursday afternoon.
“The last couple weeks, I’ve been feeling really good,” said Walker, who began with four no-hit innings before giving up two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four. “My arm’s been feeling really good, mechanics and everything. I threw a lot of four-seam fastballs and just to see the velo up again was really nice to see. I know it was down a bit first year coming back from Tommy John, but just to see some [ninety-]fives and sixes again, consistently, was nice.”
After averaging 93.5 mph on his fastball last season — his first season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018 — Walker averaged 95.4 mph on the heater Thursday while throwing it for 31 of his 87 pitches. He had not hit an average of 95.4 mph with his fastball in a game since 2017, according to Brooks Baseball, and has not averaged that velocity in a season since 2014.
The extra pop was there from the start, as Walker began the game with a three-pitch strikeout on four-seamers of 96, 96.5 and 97 mph.
“It could be [being] further out from Tommy John, mechanics and honestly having fans in the stands again,” Walker said. “My first start of the year, I was definitely amped up. That probably played into it too. But definitely being a few years removed from Tommy John now, I’ve just been working my butt off, making sure my arm strength is good.”
If Walker can continue to pack an extra punch with the fastball and mix in his other four pitches like he did Thursday, the Mets may have something with the 28-year-old signed to a two-year, $20 million deal late in the offseason.
The Marlins did not get to Walker until the fifth inning. He thought he had strike three on Brian Anderson for the second out, but it was called a ball and Anderson sliced the next pitch for a single. The Marlins later pushed across two runs off Walker in the sixth inning, but he gave the Mets the chance to win it in the ninth.
“He was great,” manager Luis Rojas said. “Established with his fastball. Breaking stuff was good, both the slider and curveball. The splitter also worked for him. … But he cruised.”