Surgery, long rehab behind him, Walker returns to Mariners
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Taijuan Walker wearing Seattle Mariners blue was a familiar sight Thursday, if only for the longtime club staffers at spring training.
The right-handed pitcher, signed to a major-league contract Wednesday, took the field with Mariners pitchers and catchers for their first workout of the spring. The last time he did that was 2016, his last year with the team that originally drafted him, before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks after that season.
“It feels like a comeback, and it feels good,” Walker said.
Walker’s physical comeback actually took place last Sept. 29, when he started and pitched an inning in the Diamondbacks’ 1-0 win over the San Diego Padres, the regular season finale for both teams. That was the culmination of almost two full seasons of rehab from Tommy John surgery in April 2018, and from a shoulder injury setback last May as he neared a return.
“I’m comfortable here. That was the biggest decision. I haven’t pitched in two years, so I wanted somewhere where I could come in and kind of take my time and don’t have to rush. Don’t have to go out and really prove anything in spring training,” Walker said.
Walker has thrown four bullpen sessions with his first official one of spring set for Saturday. He said he feels 100%, hopes to take the ball for a start every fifth day and hopes to stay injury free in 2020.
“We’re excited to bring Taijuan back to Seattle,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in statement from the club. “We believe our opportunity and his skill set are a great match and know that, if healthy, he can be an impact major league starter for us.”
Walker is in line to join the starting rotation when deemed ready to do so.
The inning he worked last season was a major confidence booster for Walker, who went 22-22 with a 4.18 ERA from 2013 to 2016 with Seattle and 9-9 with a 3.47 ERA from 2017 to 2019 with Arizona.
He’s appeared in just four games since the start of the 2018 season.
“I was supposed to pitch at least half the year,” Walker said of his plan for 2019 before the setback. “When that didn’t happen I was definitely bummed but I felt like I put in the work. I did everything I needed to do, even did extra stuff. My shoulder just gave out. I just had to keep pushing, and at that point the goal was to get a couple of innings and if not, get the one.”
Walker was 17 years old when the Mariners chose him with the 43rd overall pick of the 2010 first year player draft. Now he’s 27, a father and husband, and he said he wants to help younger players the way veterans helped him when he starting out.
“Right away you could see the maturity and kind of where he’s at, and listening to him and where he wants to get to,” manager Scott Servais said. “The biggest message I put across to him is sometimes when you give a lot, you get even more back. And Taijuan’s learned. He’s learned what it’s been to be the No. 1 prospect-type guy. He’s dealt with some injuries here in his career. So he’s got a lot to offer our young players.”
NOTES: OF Mitch Haniger, limited to 63 games in 2019 because of a ruptured testicle, is recovering from recent core surgery related to that injury, and Servais offered no timetable on his return. “I know he’s frustrated with everything he went through last year. Working his tail off, and we’ll get him back as soon as we can,” Servais said. … Two popular recent former Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez, are with the team in camp as instructors. Suzuki will work with outfielders, be involved in baserunning drills and might throw batting practice.