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Taijuan Walker gets Jacob deGrom's All-Star spot

Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker of the Mets

Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker of the Mets look on from the dugout during the sixth inning against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jacob deGrom can do so many things on a baseball field that it’s easy to forget he’s not all-powerful.

One thing deGrom can’t do is name his own replacement for the National League All-Star team. In announcing earlier this week that he was declining to go to Denver for Tuesday’s All-Star Game, deGrom suggested his spot could rightly go to teammate Taijuan Walker.

"Hopefully, Tai gets in there and takes my place," deGrom said. "He’s 100% deserving to go."

Shortly after Walker got a no-decision in Friday night's 13-4 victory over the Pirates, Mets manager Luis Rojas announced that Walker had indeed picked up the slot left by deGrom on the NL squad.

 

Last week, Walker downplayed the idea of earning his first All-Star Game nod after his last outing, when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in a victory against the Yankees on July 3.

"It would be cool to make it, but my No. 1 goal is to go out there and help the team win," Walker said. "If I make it, awesome. But if I don’t, then I will have four days off to spend with my family and recharge for the second half."

As with deGrom, it might be better for the Mets to save Walker’s bullets for the second half, especially since he only threw 53 1/3 innings over 11 starts in 2020.

Walker’s excellence this season after the Mets signed him to a two-year, $20 million contract on Feb. 20 is one of the brightest spots in a first half filled with them in Flushing.

Walker is 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 16 starts, covering 90 innings.

"He’s a guy that deserves to be in the All-Star Game," manager Luis Rojas said. "He’s been outstanding. He’s been another ace for us."

Friday was Walker’s eighth start at Citi Field this season, and the Mets are 8-0 in those games. Walker is 4-0 with four no-decisions at home.

Rojas said one reason for Walker’s effectiveness is his willingness to learn and add to his arsenal.

For example, Rojas said Walker’s slider is "better than it was last year. I saw a lot of video of him from last year when we acquired him and I saw the split change as being his thing, his signature pitch after his two-seam [fastball]. Just watching the slider from where he was last year to where it is this year, it’s a better pitch. Now it’s got more drop, more vertical break. It’s a pitch that was going to work for righties and lefties, so he’s not only relying on that change . . . I mean this is a guy that is always thinking how to get better and I think he stayed open-minded with our pitching coaches’ ideas on how to improve some of his pitches and expand his repertoire. That started in spring training with some of the technology that we have that we'll read, whether it is the release point with the slow motion cameras that we had, and also with the feedback off of the track mats that we were using on all the sides that he was doing in spring training. So I think there's just a lot of work put into it. Of course, he's the guy, he's the one that did it, but our pitching coaches have worked really well with him, as well."

Nimmo back. Brandon Nimmo, who was not in the lineup for Thursday’s rained-out game because of a sore left shoulder, returned to the leadoff spot on Friday. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI double, a bases-loaded walk and scored two runs in the blowout of the Pirates.

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