For a pitcher who has cruised through most of his minor league career, the last month has been a little disconcerting for Taijuan Walker.
At the start of June, Walker was 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA. It was a pretty amazing first two months for a teenager pitching in the Double-A Southern League. In the last month, Walker has gone 0-3, 9.36, getting drilled in start after start including a three-game stretch when he didn't make it out of the fourth.
As he got ready for his first Futures Game appearance, Walker wanted to explain that there wasn't much to worry about. His stuff is still the same, he's just lost the feel for his secondary pitches in recent outings.
"Physically I feel fine. Everything feels the same, I just hit a bump," Walker said. "Lately I've been a one-pitch pitcher. I need to show my curveball. Hitters in Double-A can hit a fastball. I need to be able to show I can throw a curveball for strikes. My last couple of outings I didn't feel like I had (the curveball or changeup)."
In his last start before the Futures Game, Walker did appear to settle down as he threw three scoreless innings to finish up a five inning, three-run performance. Walker said that he hopes to build off that strong trio of innings in the Futures Game and his next minor league start.
But you can also tell that Walker still pines to throw a slider, something the Mariners took away from him when he became a pro.
"The curveball is a hard pitch. But if you keep throwing it, it will come and it will eventually become natural. Last year in Clinton I hated (the curveball)," Walker said. "I threw a slider in high school. Hopefully I can get my slider back, I felt like that was my second-best pitch … I want to (sneak a slider in). It's hard not to when my curveball isn't there. I want to tell the catcher, I'm going to throw a slider today, scratch the curveball."