D-backs announce Walker as Game 1 starter

D-backs announce Walker as Game 1 starter

LOS ANGELES -- In some ways, D-backs right-hander Taijuan Walker's first postseason start, which will come tonight against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, will be easier than his first postseason non-appearance.

NLDS Game 1: Tonight, 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. MST on TBS

Walker wasn't on the roster for Wednesday night's wild, 11-8 victory over the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game. There was nothing he could do about watching a 6-0 lead nearly disappear. Having retreated to the clubhouse because, as he said, "I couldn't really handle it," he screamed himself hoarse when fellow pitcher Archie Bradley launched his out-of-nowhere two-run triple in the seventh.

Game Date Results Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 LAD 9, ARI 5 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 7 LAD 8, ARI 5 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 9 LAD 3, ARI 1 Watch

But tonight's game is his.

"You know, it was a wild one last night, so still trying to recover from that," Walker said. "But I'm ready. I've done my research. I've faced them a couple times this year."

The D-backs have won all three of Walker's starts against the Dodgers, including two at Dodger Stadium, and he is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in 16 2/3 innings against Los Angeles, with 17 strikeouts and five walks. The first two were in April, one at home and one on the road. On Sept. 6, with the Dodgers 12 games into a 1-16 stretch, Walker held them to one run and four hits in six innings of a 3-1 D-backs victory.

Walker's success is in line with his team's. The D-backs won the regular-season series, 11-8.

Walker's 6-foot-4, 235-pound listing doesn't do justice to the imposing figure he is on the mound. That and his nasty stuff allow him to work both high and low in the strike zone, which means he doesn't have to work the horizontal edges as much as others.

To illustrate, here is every pitch he has thrown against the Dodgers this season:

When he's on, as he mostly was against the Dodgers this season, he gets a festival of popups, which have a low hit expectancy no matter how hard they're hit, and ground balls for his infielders.

Here's an illustration of how grounders and fly balls have far outweighed the line drives hit against him. According to Statcast™, he has yielded just two "barrels" (95 mph or greater exit speed) in 46 batted balls against the Dodgers.

But, Walker notes, it's not as if the Dodgers don't know his secret.

"They know what I've got, and I kind of know what they've got and I know their weaknesses," Walker said. "So I think if I just follow my game plan, I think it should be good."

Going into the postseason, many expected Robbie Ray to start Game 1, but Ray was needed in the Wild Card Game. But D-backs manager Torey Lovullo had enough confidence in Walker to give him the Game 1 start.

"It's something we've been thinking about pretty much the entire time," Lovullo said. "We just wanted to check a few boxes to make sure. We're excited about it. He's throwing the ball well against the Dodgers, and he's going to be ready for the challenge."

The one issue that could throw things out of whack is emotions. Walker, having seen pitchers such as the Yankees' Luis Severino and the Rockies' Jon Gray struggle in the Wild Card games, is aware of that.

"Watching Gray and even Severino from the Yankees, we're all young pitchers, first time throwing in the postseason," Walker said. "The biggest thing is controlling our emotions, taking it one pitch at a time.

"You can't go out there and let the adrenaline really get to you. You have to take a deep breath every pitch and really focus on each pitch."

He's already improving his focus. A 2010 Mariners first-round pick out of Yucaipa (Calif.) High about 90 minutes from Dodger Stadium, Walker is too busy focusing on the opponent to spend much time on ticket distribution.

"Just my family, like my mom, my wife, my brothers and sister," he said. "That's about it.

"Everyone else is kind of on their own. It's a hot ticket."

Thomas Harding has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.