Taijuan Walker Comes up Small


(Photo credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Mets may have nine of their players in free agency this offseason, which includes Taijuan Walker likely opting out. He is seeking a payday that could be the last in his career.

After watching him come up small by going 5 1/3 innings Tuesday night in the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field, the Mets must be rooting for him to opt-out. If he does that, he likely is done as a Met with so many of their free agents they need to sign from Brandon Nimmo to Edwin Diaz to Chris Bassitt to Jacob deGrom, who could opt-out. They have starters who could easily replace him in David Peterson and Tylor MeGill.

From all accounts, it sure seems like Walker is determined to opt-out despite another post-All-Star break collapse. He knows some team will be desperate to overpay him. That’s always the case with teams that need pitching. God bless him and his next employer.

The Mets can’t pay him if going 5 1/3 innings is the best he can do at this time of year now where starters go at least six or seven innings. They can’t even count on him at this point.

We can blame Joely Rodriguez for giving up a hit to Gavin Lux that scored Freddie Freeman, breaking a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning. But he shouldn’t have been in the position to pitch in that spot. If Walker pitched six full innings, maybe Mets manager Buck Showalter manages the game differently by using Seth Lugo in the seventh and Adam Ottavino in the eighth while hoping the Mets take the lead in either of those innings that would have Edwin Diaz close.

It would have been something if that scenario happened because Timmy Trumpet was in attendance to perform “Narco” had Diaz closed it out. Instead, the musician will perform Wednesday night if Diaz gets that opportunity.

The Mets don’t even have many reliable relievers out there. Outside of maybe Tommy Hunter and Ottavino to go with Diaz, it’s slim pickings. Sure Lugo got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning to keep it at 3, but he can be a hit or miss. It would behoove Walker to go deeper in games.

It didn’t happen, and that has to be disappointing in what was a playoff-type game between two National League contenders. For Showalter to use Lugo early in relief, Walker put his manager in a bind by hoping for the best with other relievers late in the game.

Walker pitched decently. It wasn’t his performance that was an issue. It’s just that he is not good enough to go deep in games.

From what we have seen out of Walker in the two years he has been here, he starts off well and then in the All-Star break, he is either hurt or not good enough. Once again, his post-All-Star break struggles enter the spotlight. In his recent starts against the Braves, he pitched in pain and got rocked at home against them and then at Atlanta, he left the game with back spasms in the second inning. It just seems like he can’t seem to put everything together. He finished August by allowing 15 earned runs in 17 innings.

Walker left Tuesday night’s game after throwing 92 pitches. He labored for most of the night, and he could not master the Dodgers lineup the second time through the order. He struggled to get by in the sixth inning that had Showalter take him out. This is where he needs to step up and find a way. He has to channel his inner competitiveness and get through it. Right now, he just gives up easily.

With the way he is trending, it may not be fait accompli that he even starts a playoff game. Peterson gives the Mets a better chance to win than Walker because at least he will go six or seven innings.

Walker has to be searching for answers. He knows this isn’t going to cut it. It just seems like now it’s going to be a bullpen game when he starts since he can’t face batters for the third time in a row. This is not acceptable for a starting pitcher, even if analytics trend that way now.

Here’s the bottom line: He has to pitch better than what he has done lately.

It would have been nice if Walker did not hit Joey Gallo to load the bases in the third inning with two outs. It set the stage for Lux’s two-RBI single, giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead in that inning. If he did not have to labor that inning, maybe he gets to six. He can’t keep laboring out there that had him throw 21 combined pitches to get through the fourth and fifth.

Walker may not have officially lost in the first of a three-game series with the Dodgers.

But he wasn’t the solution on this Tuesday night.

This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6

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