On May 1, against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, Phillies right-hander Taijuan Walker was pretty well handcuffed. He found a way to give up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. After six starts, his ERA was 6.91.
There were silent whispers. There were muffled mumbles. They were restless growls. He was the free agent the Phillies had just signed for a total of $72 million. Rarely had the phrase Four More Years sounded so ominous.
In nine starts since, he is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA.
Walker recorded another dominating start Friday night at the Oakland Coliseum as the Phillies won their fourth straight game, 6-1, over the Athletics. They also won 11 of their last 13 to move two games above .500, tying their season high.
In footballing terms, this could have been considered a trap series. So much emphasis had been placed on the previous seven games against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, especially since the Phils had yet to establish that they could beat teams with winning records. They cleared that hurdle with ease, winning five out of seven.
Starting 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 poised 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 points this season. Still, Walker was impressive.
He went 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 hitter. He struck out eight, including DH Brent Rooker looking for a 95.2 mph fastball on his last pitch.
A few brilliant circumstances helped end Walker’s 14-inning scoreless streak in third.
Shortstop Aledmys Diaz started 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 seemed to comfortably catch the bottom of the strike zone. But plate umpire Brennan Miller called it a ball. Walker’s shoulders sagged noticeably. There’s no way to know for sure if the Phillies starter let that distract him, but Langeliers fielded his next pitch left for a single.
After outfielder Tony Kemp got into a force play in the third, center fielder Esteury Ruiz delivered an RBI single and then stole the second. First baseman Ryan Noda followed with a line drive to center, but Walker avoided further damage when center Cristian Pache came in to make a nice catch.
Pache was activated from IL before the game. To make room on the roster, Dalton Guthrie was picked for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
With one out and a front-row runner in the seventh, Pache drove deep into the gap to rob Diaz of potential extra bases. Edmundo Sosa also made two dazzling field plays in third position.
Walker gave up the first double to second baseman Peterson at fifth and Ruiz at sixth, but managed to block 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 good streak now and the Phillies are hoping for it. The Phillies, of course, hope that doesn’t end anytime soon.
When Charlie Manuel coached the Phillies, he liked to observe that homers were a good thing but in the end, they were nothing more than a flying ball that landed on the other side of the fence.
Oakland starter JP Sears recorded just two outs on ground balls in his first six innings, one of them when Pache attempted to score for a hit before the fifth.
With their launch angles set high, the Phils hit plenty of fly balls off Sears. Three of them landed on the other side of the fence – Kyle Schwarber leading the game, JT Realmuto leading second and a two-point shout from Alec Bohm in fourth – representing their first four points.
Schwarber, who led the NL with 46 homers last season, now has 19 this year.
Left-hander Christopher Sanchez (0-0, 6.23) will make his second start of the season on Saturday afternoon. It will be added to the roster before the match and a corresponding move will be made at that time. The A’s will counter with RHP James Kaprielian (2-6, 6.89).
In Sunday afternoon’s series finale, RHP Zack Wheeler (5-4, 3.73) will start for the Phillies against LHP Hogan Harris (2-0, 4.84).