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Phillies slug enough to overcome a late scare in Taijuan Walker’s debut

Phillies slug enough to overcome a late scare in Taijuan Walker’s debut

SAN DIEGO — Taijuan Walker was so efficient through six innings Sunday afternoon that the Phillies tried to eke out one more in his season debut. The decision did not work, but they still pulled off a sweep of the Padres thanks to another day of depth and power from the lineup.

The Phils rode three two-run homers — two from Bryson Stott, one from J.T. Realmuto — and late insurance to an 8-6 win. After scoring all five of their runs with two outs Saturday, they scored four more on Sunday.

At 19-10, the Phillies have their most wins in April since at least 1900.

“Every day, every night, it’s a new pitcher shutting down an inning, it’s a new hitter driving guys in and that’s what you need as a team,” Stott said. “Just winning all types of different games. I guess you could call this one a slugfest today. Winning high-scoring games, winning 5-1, 5-2, winning the 2-1 games and learning how to win each type of game is huge.

“To get it happening early is different for us. It feels like everyone’s kinda clicking.”

There was a wide range of potential outcomes Sunday for Walker’s first start. Until his final inning, it was the sort of outing a team would take every time from its No. 5. There were plenty of starts last season when the Phillies removed him after five or six innings despite a relatively low pitch count, so it was a bit of a surprise to see zero bullpen activity until Walker had put two men aboard in the seventh.

“His pitch count was really good, he was really efficient and I thought he was still throwing the ball well,” manager Rob Thomson said.

Philadelphia Phillies

Walker held the Padres off the board in five of the first six innings, giving up three runs in the third. After two quick outs in the bottom of the third, he missed by less than an inch off the outside corner on a full count to Jurickson Profar. It could have gone either way but was ruled a ball by home plate umpire Lance Barrett, who had an inconsistent zone. Fernando Tatis Jr. followed with an RBI double and Jake Cronenworth hit a two-run homer.

“I guess you never know,” he said. “Sometimes they call it, sometimes they don’t. It was a perfect pitch to throw, just didn’t get the call on that one.”

Walker then settled in to retire 11 of the next 12 batters and was at just 73 pitches through six innings with the bottom of the order due up in the seventh. He walked Ha-Seong Kim with one out in the seventh and allowed an infield single to Graham Pauley on a ground ball muffed by Bryce Harper. The Padres pinch-hit with starting catcher Luis Campusano and he crushed a three-run homer to end Walker’s day on a sour note.

Walker earned the win, but three runs over six innings looks and feels a lot different than six runs over 6⅓.

“Everyone’s pitching well, the team’s rolling and I want to be part of that and be out there with the guys, going deep into games and doing my part,” he said. “It didn’t feel like I did that all the way today, but the offense did very well, the defense did very well and the team’s just hot right now. Got the first one out of the way and move forward.”

Both of the Padres’ three-run rallies began with free passes and that is a major key to Walker’s performance. He had a 3.22 ERA last season in nine starts when walking one or no batters. He had a 4.97 ERA when walking two or more.

“The splitter wasn’t very good today but the slider was,” he said. “Got some weak contact. I had two walks and those two walks ended up making it a longer inning than I wanted and got hurt by it. When you prolong innings like that and walk people, bad things happen.”

Fastball velocity is another important factor for Walker. His heater averaged 94 mph in 2022, his final season with the Mets. It averaged 93 mph last season. This spring and during his rehab assignment, he was mostly 89-91. On Sunday, his sinker averaged 91.6 and his four-seamer was 91.1.

His next start is lined up for next Sunday at home against the Giants.

The Phillies weren’t perfect defensively in the series finale but made two huge plays. Walker had a behind-the-back snag of a Jackson Merrill line drive in the second inning that started a double play. Center fielder Johan Rojas made a remarkable play in the sixth, slamming into the wall after leaping to catch a 399-foot blast by Tatis. The ball would have been a home run in 11 of 30 stadiums and had a catch probability of just 19%.

Rojas also doubled in Brandon Marsh with two outs in the top of the eighth to give the Phillies breathing room after the Campusano longball.

Alec Bohm had another big day, going 3-for-5 with two doubles. He’s gone 25-for-48 (.521) with 10 doubles, three homers and 16 RBI during a 12-game hitting streak. He has an extra-base hit in eight straight games.

“Me and Whit (Merrifield) were sitting there saying he’s due for an RBI, it’s been three at-bats,” Stott said. “He’s pretty incredible. He gets on these runs where it doesn’t matter, it could be a knuckleball, slider, under-hand fastball and you know he’s gonna hit it.”

The Phils lost their first two series of the season but have won five and split two since, winning 17 of 23 games. They took a bus ride to Anaheim Sunday evening to begin the third and final leg of a 10-game road trip. Cristopher Sanchez starts Game 1, Spencer Turnbull starts Game 2 and Zack Wheeler goes in Game 3.

“We’re having fun together,” Realmuto said. “Obviously, our starters are throwing the ball incredible. We’re getting a lead early in the game, which lets everybody relax and have a little more fun, and we tend to build onto our leads better when we score early. It just gives the offense confidence and that’s what we’re playing with now.”

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