When Taijuan Walker takes the mound at Progressive Field on Tuesday in Cleveland, it will be the second time he’s faced the Indians in three starts.
When Taijuan Walker takes the mound at Progressive Field on Tuesday in Cleveland, it will be the second time he’s faced the Indians in three starts. In his last outing against the Tribe, he threw eight shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out eight on May 29.
Now just 10 days later, he will face them again. And he will have to adjust because they will have made adjustments based on that last meeting.
“I haven’t had to deal with that yet,” he admitted.
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It’s something young pitchers have to adjust to in the big leagues, usually more often in division games.
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But Walker won’t be the same pitcher when he takes the mound for the second time against Cleveland. In this outing, he’ll feel like he has an improved weapon to combat hitters — a much-improved curveball, thanks to a change in grips.
Four days before the outing against the Indians, Walker, who has struggled with finding the feel of his breaking ball all season, decided to mimic the “spiked” curveball grip used by James Paxton and Felix Hernandez. Basically, Walker pulls the tip of his index finger back toward his hand, raising the knuckle — like a knuckleball grip. The pitch is gripped with his middle finger and thumb and pressure of the index finger tip.
It’s a common breaking ball grip, particularly for pitchers with larger hands.
Walker had experimented with it during the spring of 2014.
“There was no feel to it,” he said. “So I just kind of scratched it. I think I have a better feel of how to throw offspeed pitches. I’ve learned the changeup. So I decided to try and throw it again.”
The new-old grip felt much better in his throwing sessions leading up to the start. The breaking ball came out sharper and with more spin to it.
“I threw it for four days and took it into the game against Cleveland,” Walker said.
He threw that new curveball six times. It wasn’t a lot, but he didn’t need it with pinpoint fastball location in that outing. But he showed it a few times to hitters and gained confidence.
In his next start against the Yankees, he threw it seven times and had even better feel with it.
“I threw it to A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) and I got a ground ball with it,” he said. “I feel really comfortable with it.”
He hopes that comfort will only grow with work in between starts and game reps.
“It’s just a matter of continuing to throw it,” he said. “I want to use it a lot more earlier in the game, especially to get them off the fastball. They kind of know that I throw a lot of fastball, change and slider. If I can mix that in and keep them off balance, it will help.”
While Walker has three other pitches, they don’t offer the same kind of variation in speed and eye level. His fastball is in the mid 90s, his changeup and slider are in the mid to high 80s.
“Because I have three pitches that I throw really hard I need something I can throw for a strike that’s softer to get them off the fastball,” he said. “Right now I can throw it for strike one or strike two. Eventually, when I get comfortable with it, maybe it becomes a strikeout pitch. “
Two years ago, Walker was messing around with different grips for his changeup and found a split-finger grip that he liked and felt confident with. The usage grew with each start and the comfort and command followed.
“I started throwing it and it just took off out of nowhere,” he said. “I gained some confidence with it and started throwing it a lot. I think that’s the route to take with the curveball.”
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