The Mets lost to the Blue Jays, 10-3, on Saturday, but more than the final score of a random July game, it was the starting pitcher’s performance that might hold greater meaning for the rest of their season.
Taijuan Walker lasted four innings-plus and allowed six runs and eight hits, including three of the Blue Jays’ five home runs, his second bad start in a row after representing the Mets in the All-Star Game.
The last of those homers came in the fifth inning off the bat of Marcus Semien, whose three-run shot ended an 11-pitch at-bat and Walker’s outing. In the third, George Springer tagged Walker for a solo homer, followed minutes later by a two-run blast by Teoscar Hernandez, who also hit a two-run homer off Anthony Banda in the ninth.
"They had the home run swing going on today," manager Luis Rojas said. "They hit the changeup out, the slider out, the fastball out. They came out swinging. You gotta credit that really good lineup that they have."
Said Walker, "I threw a couple of pitches I shouldn’t have thrown."
He also was dealing with what Rojas described as a "pinch" in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, triggered by a swing during his at-bat in the third. In the top of the fifth, he looked uncomfortable, so Rojas, trainer Joseph Golia and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner made a mound visit.
Walker stayed in for two more batters. That was just long enough to yield Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s rocket of a double off the wall in left-centerfield and Semien’s homer.
"It was nothing," said Walker, who declined to specify the issue. "Honestly. It was nothing. They saw something, they wanted to see how it was feeling, and it was good. Everything is good."
"We trust Walker," Rojas said, "a guy that has a really good feel for his body."
Altogether, it was an ugly night for Walker, who all of a sudden is starting to stack them up.
In his first nine starts, he had a 1.84 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. In nine starts since then, he has a 5.16 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.
"These starts are going to happen," Walker said. "I don’t want them to happen, but they are going to happen. Now I gotta find a way to bounce back and go back out there and get back to what I was doing at the beginning of the year."
One piece of the puzzle for Walker — and every pitcher, especially this year — is his innings total.
Saturday brought Walker to 94 1⁄3 innings. That is quite a bit more than the 67 1⁄3 he threw in 2018-20 combined, seasons in which he was limited by injuries and the pandemic.
Walker has made 18 starts this year. He hasn’t made that many since 2017, when he had 28 for the Diamondbacks.
Injury and/or ineffectiveness from him would be unfortunate for the Mets, whose rotation is in tatters.
"He’s a guy that obviously we trust," Rojas said. "He’s done so much for us."
The Mets did fine against Toronto lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was smacked around for 10 hits and three runs in 4 1⁄3 innings. They chased him with five consecutive hits — including RBI singles by Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith — in the bottom of the fifth.
Assisting Ryu was Springer, who robbed Nimmo of an extra-base hit with a highlight-reel catch in the third inning. Nimmo sent a 100-mph line drive to left-centerfield and Springer went airborne to snag it. In one smooth motion after catching the ball in midair, he landed on the warning track, rolled his legs over his head, stood up and came to rest standing against the wall.
Nimmo said his initial reaction to the "Superman play" was "obviously disappointment."
"Then I was like, man, that was an amazing play," Nimmo said. "And also I’m glad he didn’t break his neck, because if he was six feet closer, he would’ve dove right into the wall. No one wants to see that."
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