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Mets good vibes keep rolling, and Walker rediscovers the art of the strikeout
The Mets extend their NL East lead with their third straight victory. Plus, how Taijuan Walker is rediscovering the strikeout in the month of June.
Today we recognize and celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in the United States. To learn more about Juneteenth, visit the Smithsonian NMAAHC at nmaahc.si.edu/juneteenth
What’s Up with the Mets? ✊🏿
The Mets outlasted the Marlins 3-2 at Citi Field on Saturday afternoon (box)
This is the fastest the Mets have reached 21 games over the .500 mark since the 1986 championship season
RHP Taijuan Walker pitched another gem, going 6.2 innings pitched with two hits and one earned run allowed with nine strikeouts
SS Francisco Lindor homered for the second consecutive day, his 11th of the season
RHPs Drew Smith and Edwin Díaz combined to go the final 2.1 innings of the game, allowing just one run with six strikeouts while notching the victory
The Mets increased their NL East lead to 6.5 games, thanks to a second straight Braves loss
New York is now 12-1 in their last 13 home games and 23-9 overall at Citi Field this season
RHP Max Scherzer (left oblique strain) threw a successful bullpen session on Saturday and is expected to make a rehab start in the coming days
Who’s Hot 🔥
With two more runs batted in on Saturday, Francisco Lindor is the first shortstop to reach 50+ RBI in 66 games or fewer since Alex Rodriguez in 2000
Jeff McNeil is now 23-for-56 (.411) with runners in scoring position this season after his RBI knock in the second inning
Taijuan Walker has 19 strikeouts over his last two starts, the second-most he’s recorded over a two-start span in his career
Today’s Game 🗓
Match-up: Mets (44-23) vs Marlins (28-35)
Where: Citi Field — Flushing, NY
Starters: RHP Chris Bassitt (5-4, 4.01 ERA) vs RHP Sandy Alcantara (6-2, 1.68 ERA)
When: 1:40 PM EST
Where to Watch: WPIX
Taijuan Walker, and rediscovering the strikeout 📝
When you think about the 2022 Mets, there’s a lot of places your mind takes you… Pete Alonso is having an MVP-caliber first half of the season, Francisco Lindor is on-pace to shatter the franchise record for RBI by a shortstop, and of course the top of their rotation on the mend with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer both gearing up for their summer returns.
One player that continues to fly under the radar, however, is Taijuan Walker. Despite having a first half so good last year that it led to his first career All-Star selection, Walker hit some hard times and fell off in a major way following that appearance, pitching to a 6.79 ERA over his final 13 starts of the year. That led people to wonder about what, exactly, Walker was going to be able to give them coming into this season.
Things did not seem to be trending in a positive way this spring, either, as Walker dealt with injuries, velocity dips and consistency issues pitching to a 7.71 ERA with just two strikeouts in three starts.
Since the regular season has begun, though, Walker has quietly been one of the Mets’ best starting pitchers once again. Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t been flashy or missing too many bats, or maybe it’s just because our focus has been pointed toward the likes of deGrom and Scherzer, the emergence of Tylor Megill (prior to his injuries) or even the bounceback season that Carlos Carrasco is having. But all season long, Walker has been going out there and giving the Mets a chance to win in nearly every performance. And now, over his last two starts, he is rediscovering the art of the strikeout.
During Walker’s All-Star first half of the 2021 campaign, strikeouts were a fairly big part of his success. While he was pitching to contact well, he was still recording 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, which would have been the most he’s ever recorded in a single season in his career. His struggles in the second half saw a significant decrease in whiffs, as his strikeouts dropped by two full Ks per nine innings to 7.1 over his final 13 starts.
And though he was pitching to contact successfully to start this season, that trend of not being able to miss bats continued to start this season. Through his first nine starts this year, Walker was averaging just 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings, far and away the lowest mark of his big league career. It hasn’t been until his last two starts where he’s suddenly seeing an uptick in whiffs.
“Earlier in the year I wasn’t getting the strikeouts I wanted,” Walker said after Saturday’s game. “But now I’ve added the slider, I’ve been pounding the strike zone with my fastball — the command’s been there — and obviously the splitter, too.”
After throwing his slider just 10 percent of the time in the month of May, Walker has implemented the pitch far more over his past few starts, throwing it 19.9 percent of the time in his three starts in June. Overall this season, a big part of his success is how much he’s mixed in his other pitches, making at-bats unpredictable for opposing hitters.
SNY broadcasters Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling said as much on the telecast on Saturday afternoon, expounding that they didn’t believe Walker had ever thrown the same pitch two consecutive times in the entire start.
Overall this season Walker has mixed in his entire arsenal very well, relying on six different pitches (fastball, splitter, slider, curveball, cutter, sinker) and not throwing a single one of them more than 31.6 percent of the time — something that is extremely uncommon in today’s game, especially when it comes to fastball usage. This keeps hitters guessing at all times, as it’s nearly impossible to sit back and dial in on one specific pitch.
As Walker continues to mix things up and become more aggressive within the strike zone, the strikeouts are now starting to tally up more than they had earlier in the season. Over his last two starts, in particular, Walker has struck out 19 hitters in just 12.2 innings pitched — that would be good for 14 strikeouts per nine innings, for the record.
If he can continue to attack hitters in this manner and start missing bats the way he has over his last few starts — his whiff percentage is up 6.2 percent in June compared to the month prior — he may not be flying under the radar much longer and could prove to be a very important cog for this team as they look to win the National League East.
“I expect to see a lot more strikeouts as the year goes on,” Walker said. “I just feel really good right now.”
Down on the Farm 🌾
Ronny Mauricio (SS, No. 3 prospect, Double-A): 2-for-5, HR (11), 2 RBI
Nick Meyer (C, No. 27 prospect, Triple-A): 2-for-3, 2 2B, 5 RBI, BB, run scored
Trevor Cahill (RHP, Triple-A): 1.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R (2 ER), 4 BB, 2 K
Around the League 🚩
Angels CF Mike Trout hit game-winning home runs in both ends of the club’s doubleheader sweep of the Mariners
The Yankees won their ninth straight game with a shutout of the Blue Jays in Toronto
The Phillies improved to 12-0 over the Nationals over the last 12 contests against the division rival
Tigers top prospect Riley Greene reached base safely four times in his big league debut as the team pounded out a 14-7 win over the Rangers
The Braves lost their second straight game to the Cubs by a 6-3 score