PHILADELPHIA — The Taijuan Walker back saga has added a new wrinkle.
Buck Showalter announced before Saturday’s doubleheader that Walker will not make his scheduled start on Sunday. He did not disclose who would take his place, though a combination of taxi squad call up Jose Butto and Tommy Hunter — who is back in the clubhouse after making three rehab appearances for his low back tightness — seems like a solid course of action.
Walker and the Mets initially classified his issue as back spasms, but an MRI revealed a minor bulge in one of his discs. The training staff has been working closely with Walker since he was pulled from Tuesday’s game after two innings. The pitcher was not made available for comment before Saturday’s doubleheader, but his skipper took a stab at explaining the situation.
“He’s doing really well,” Showalter said. “He’s got a couple other things we want him to do to make sure that we’re not going to have an issue. We feel like he’ll start somewhat shortly thereafter. It’s not an IL injury. We feel like he’s going to be a pitcher for us sometime in the coming week.”
As of now, the Mets are lined up to have Max Scherzer pitch Monday at Yankee Stadium with Jacob deGrom right behind him. Then it’d be Chris Bassitt for Thursday’s meeting with the Rockies before two games that could, theoretically, go to Walker. Showalter laid out his thinking for when it makes sense to reinsert Walker (who himself said it doesn’t make sense to push himself until he’s 100%) into the rotation.
“I don’t think Monday is in play,” Showalter said. “But everything from Tuesday on. We want to do one more thing with him [on Sunday]. He’s going to take a good, strong work day. Then you wait and see how he responds on Monday. After Monday, he’s in play. We think. We hope.”
Walker has made 21 starts for the Mets this season, posting a 3.36 ERA with his lowest walk rate since 2016. As of Saturday morning, he ranked in the top 20 of ERA, ground ball rate (46.7%), home runs per nine innings (0.72) and percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that batters swing at (33.6%) among National League pitchers who have thumbed 100 innings.
KEEP IT SIMPLE, KID
Showalter has seen this movie before.
In 2012, he was the Orioles’ manager when the team called up a sparkling third base prospect. That kid in Baltimore was Manny Machado, who’s become a six-time All-Star and is sneakily building a career with a Hall of Fame trajectory. While it’s obviously far too early to place any sort of similar expectations on Brett Baty, Showalter was asked how to handle someone who’s still so green.
“What you really try to do is not create other challenges that don’t need to be there,” he said. “Just simplify it. See it, hit it, catch it, throw it, run, and make sure you make the bus.”
When a player is rushed through the minors as Baty was — he only got six games at Triple-A before the Mets’ cavalcade of injuries led to his MLB debut — Showalter says the relationships they’ve formed in the past become their foundation.
“Let’s face it,” Showalter said. “You’re at the mercy of the mothers and fathers of the world. He’s had a good upbringing. You can tell that he’s got a lot of people that have been around him, steering him around. Whether it be our minor league scouts or, now, his teammates here. You try not to overload. This level and the competition are enough of a challenge.”
PUT THE BLINDERS ON
After beating the Phillies on Friday, Mets’ starting pitcher Chris Bassitt opened a window into his mind.
He was questioned about how important it was to begin the Philadelphia series with a win after losing three of four in Atlanta. Knowing that Atlanta is the defending World Series champ, with a roster that’s arguably better this year, it’s natural for the players to keep an eye on the standings and frequently wonder what the Braves are up to.
Bassitt cautioned against that.
“Losing the series to the Braves was not great,” Bassitt said. “We just treat every day like one day. In the past, being with Oakland and always trying to chase Houston, we made a really big mistake of constantly worrying about Houston. I don’t think Houston ever really worried about us. We respect the Braves and we understand the Braves, but we can’t really worry about what they’re doing.”
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Michael Perez, the catcher whose contract the Mets purchased from Pittsburgh, is not a good hitter. The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader was his fifth time suiting up for the Mets, as he’s been thrown into the fire due to Tomas Nido contracting COVID-19. Coming into the game, Perez did not have a hit for the Mets yet. No matter, Showalter said, because of his standout defensive abilities.
“He’s a good receiver, good thrower, very engaged, good memory of pitch sequencing and carrying scouting reports over into the game.”