The free agent steal of the offseason is headed to Colorado.
Taijuan Walker, one of the unheralded linchpins of the first-place Mets, is going to the All-Star Game for the first time as a replacement, manager Luis Rojas said after the team’s 13-4 pasting of the Pirates at Citi Field on Friday night.
“It’s finally starting to come and hit me now,” said the 28-year-old Walker, who earned a $50,000 bonus with the All-Star nod. “Everyone’s texting me, my family’s texting me, so it’s really cool.
“Once I got to the big leagues, it’s always been a goal to be an All-Star, to be the best of the best and go out there and compete against the best and be around the best players in the league.”
After Jacob deGrom was the only Met selected last Sunday for the All-Star Game, several players expressed their disappointment that Walker had been bypassed. DeGrom had opted not to travel for the game, preferring to spend time with his family and rest, and endorsed Walker to be his replacement.
“Jake’s the best pitcher in the league right now. For him to come out and publicly say I should be an All-Star, it meant a lot to me,” said Walker, who wanted Marcus Stroman and Edwin Diaz there with him.
There will be one other Met in Denver with Walker. Pete Alonso will be looking to defend his Home Run Derby title. When asked what he was most looking forward to about the showcase, Walker joked he wanted to see Alonso win the hitting competition again.
Walker wasn’t at his best Friday night, lasting just five innings. But even without his usual command, the right-hander limited the Pirates to two earned runs and pitched around significant trouble twice.
With a 2.50 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched while allowing just 63 hits, Walker has been a godsend for the Mets, the only team to offer him a contract this offseason. He has been steady and effective, allowing two runs or fewer in 12 of his 16 starts. He leads them with four starts of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run allowed, one more than deGrom.
“Honestly, I feel like I pitched pretty good last year, too,” he said, referring to his 2.70 ERA with the Mariners and Blue Jays. “I know what I can do when I’m healthy.”
In hindsight, inking Walker to a two-year, $20 million deal has looked like a brilliant move, particularly with established starters Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco missing the entire season up to this point due to injury. There was a significant segment of the fan base that was disappointed when reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer spurned the Mets for the Dodgers, and they wound up with Walker as a much cheaper option instead.
Now, with Bauer’s administrative leave extended an additional seven days Thursday as MLB continues its investigation into sexual assault allegations against him, the Mets have to be thrilled with the pitcher they ended up with.
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