On May 1, against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, Phillies righthander Taijuan Walker was cuffed around pretty good. He found a way to give up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. After six starts, his earned run average was 6.91.
There were quiet murmurs. The were hushed mumbles. They were fretful grumbles. This was the free agent that the Phillies had just committed a total of $72 million to. Rarely had the phrase Four More Years sounded so foreboding.
In nine starts since, he’s 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA.
Walker dialed up another dominant start Friday night at the Oakland Coliseum as the Phillies won their fourth straight, 6-1, over the Athletics. They’ve also won 11 of their last 13 to move to two games over .500, tying their high-water mark for the season.
In football terms, this could have been considered a trap series. So much emphasis had been put on the seven preceding games against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, especially since the Phils had yet to establish they could beat teams with winning records. They easily cleared that hurdle by winning five of the seven.
Beginning Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, the first-place Atlanta Braves loom in an important National League East showdown.
It would have been easy, then, to look past Oakland, a team that until a recent winning streak was on pace to finish with the worst regular season record in modern baseball history. Instead, they kept the pedal to the metal.
Full disclosure: The A’s are a bad offensive team. Only the Royals have scored fewer runs this season. Still, Walker was impressive.
He completed eight innings for the first time since 2017. He threw 100 pitches, 71 for strikes including 21 first-pitch strikes. He didn’t walk a batter. He struck out eight including getting DH Brent Rooker looking on a 95.2 mile an hour fastball on his final pitch.
A couple funky circumstances helped set up the end of Walker’s 14-inning scoreless streak in the third.
Shortstop Aledmys Diaz led off with a grounder that handcuffed shortstop Trea Turner, bouncing high off his glove. The official scorer charitably – very charitably – credited Diaz with a hit.
Walker got a quick strike on the next batter, catcher Shea Langeliers then came back with a splitter that appeared to comfortably catch the bottom of the strike zone. But home plate umpire Brennan Miller called it a ball. Walker’s shoulders slumped noticeably. There’s no way of knowing for certain if the Phillies starter let that distract him, but Langeliers lined his next pitch to left for a single.
After leftfielder Tony Kemp bunted into a force play at third, centerfielder Esteury Ruiz delivered an RBI single and then stole second. First baseman Ryan Noda followed with a line drive to center but Walker avoided further damage when centerfielder Cristian Pache came in to make a nice catch.
Pache was activated from the IL before the game. To make space on the roster, Dalton Guthrie was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
With one out and a runner on first in the seventh, Pache went deep into the gap to rob Diaz of potential extra bases. Edmundo Sosa also made two dazzling fielding plays at third.
Walker gave up leadoff doubles to second baseman Peterson in the fifth and Ruiz in the sixth but was able to strand both runners.
He’s been a streaky pitcher recently. In 2021 he was 7-3, 2.66 in the first half and made the All-Star team. After the break went 2-11, 7.13. Last season he was 7-2, 2.55 before and 5-3, 4.80 after.
He’s on another hot streak now and the Phillies are hoping. The Phillies, of course, are hoping it won’t end any time soon.
When Charlie Manuel managed the Phillies, he liked to observe that home runs were a great thing but that, in the end, they were nothing more than a fly balls that lands on the other side of the fence.
Oakland starter JP Sears recorded only two outs on ground balls in his first six innings, one of them when Pache tried to bunt for a hit leading off the fifth.
With their launch angles set on high, the Phils hit a lot of fly balls off Sears. Three of them landed on the other side of the fence – Kyle Schwarber leading off the game, J.T. Realmuto leading off the second and a two-run shout by Alec Bohm in the fourth – accounting for their first four runs.
Schwarber, who led the NL with 46 homers last season, now has 19 this year.
Lefthander Christopher Sanchez (0-0, 6.23) will make his second start of the season Sasturday afternoon. He’ll be added to the roster before the game and a corresponding move will be made at that time. The A’s will counter with RHP James Kaprielian (2-6, 6.89).
In the series finale Sunday afternoon, RHP Zack Wheeler (5-4, 3.73) will start for the Phillies against LHP Hogan Harris (2-0, 4.84).