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June 21, 2024

Instant observations: Phillies fall short after Taijuan Walker's poor outing on Cole Hamels retirement night

A rough start from Taijuan Walker sunk the Phillies in their first game against the Arizona Diamondbacks since last year's NLCS.

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Taijuan Walker 6.21.24 Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports

Things went from bad to worse for Taijuan Walker in his start against the Arizona Diamondbacks Friday night.

After returning home and nabbing a series victory over the San Diego Padres, the Phillies began a three-game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks on what was Cole Hamels' retirement night Friday. It was the first time the teams faced off since the Diamondbacks won two straight games on the very same field to win the 2023 National League Championship Series and send the Phillies home. After the Phillies received a shaky start from Taijuan Walker and squandered a few key opportunities, they fell to Arizona, 5-4. Here is what jumped out from the series opener:

Cole Hamels honored in pregame ceremony

Phillies icon Cole Hamels finally held his retirement ceremony at Citizens Bank Park before Friday night's first pitch. Several former teammates and coaches of his -- including Charlie Manuel, Carlos Ruiz, Jamie Moyer, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton -- were present for the ceremony. 

Hamels, who famously threw a no-hitter against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in his final start with the Phillies, was given the pitching rubber and lineup card from that game by Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola, who briefly teamed with Hamels and started for the Phillies the day after the no-hitter, and Phillies designated hitter Kyle Schwarber, who was on the Cubs at the time.

Hamels delivered a speech in which he thanked the organization for taking a chance on him and the fans for believing in him. He recalled memories of the team's glory days, particularly their World Series victory in 2008.

Before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch -- fittingly, the pitch was caught by Ruiz -- Hamels turned toward the home team's dugout on the first base line and said "now, it's this team's turn."

Taijuan Walker crashes back down to earth

Walker missed the first month of the season due to an injury, and many were upset when his return to action sent Spencer Turnbull -- who had starred in Walker's absence -- to the bullpen on a permanent basis. Walker's first seven starts of the season only added fuel to that fire, as he posted a 5.73 ERA and allowed opposing hitters to slash .302/.371/.517 while failing to miss bats or induce weak contact.

In his two most recent starts, though, Walker did show some progress. In the team's London series against the New York Mets, he only allowed two hits across 5.2 innings, striking out six batters. He was charged with two earned runs, but they were runners who he left on base and reliever Gregory Soto allowed to score. Last week in Baltimore, Walker pitched 5.2 innings and allowed three earned runs against an extremely dangerous Orioles lineup. These were not exactly earth-shattering starts, but after looking incompetent for many of his outings in 2024, he at least started to look like a competent No. 5 starter.

Against the Diamondbacks -- the team Walker was upset he was never utilized against in October last year -- boos rained down on the Phillies' right-hander. He struggled mightily with command, and when his pitches were the strike zone, they looked to be right over the heart of the plate. Walker allowed three home runs in the first three innings of the game, and none of them were cheap shots.

Walker's final line Friday: 4.0 innings, five hits, four runs (all earned), three strikeouts and three walks on 77 pitches (42 strikes). His season-long ERA is now 5.60.

Even before this game, Walker's numbers -- while accounting for his progress over his prior two starts -- were jarring. His front-facing and underlying metrics told the same story: he entered the game with a 5.33 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, and the frequency with which he allowed hard contact indicated that these numbers were not the product of bad luck.

Walker's percentile ranks in various stats on Baseball Savant entering Friday night's start:

StatWalker percentile
Fastball velocity10th
Average exit velocity1st
Chase percentage17th
Whiff percentage5th
Strikeout percentage29th
Walk percentage45th
Barrel percentage2nd
Hard-hit percentage1st

These numbers are only going to get worse after Walker's short but eventful start against the Diamondbacks. Some would argue that the Phillies have banked enough wins that it is tenable for them to put Walker on the mound every fifth day because he is still in just the second season of a four-year, $72 million contract. Others may claim that the time to pull the plug on Walker as a member of an otherwise-dominant starting rotation has already past.

Trea Turner swats no-doubter for first home run since return from injury

Turner was activated from the Injured List on Monday after missing nearly six weeks of action due to a hamstring strain. In the third inning on Friday, he obliterated a baseball into the left field seats; his third home run of the season and his first since returning to play.

Turner's two-run shot traveled 429 feet, and its exit velocity of 110.6 miles per hour represented his hardest-hit ball of the season -- nearly topping his hardest-hit ball as a member of the Phillies (110.8 miles per hour). Diamondbacks left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did not even move:

Turner's on-base skills have been terrific in 2024; he entered Friday's game with a .340 batting average and .386 on-base percentage. (It is a much smaller sample size than most players have at this point of the season, but Turner's batting average would easily lead all major-league players if he qualified for league leaderboards and his on-base percentage would be tied for 10th-best among all hitters.) But the Phillies' lineup would become considerably more dangerous if its two-hole hitter could tap into the power that helps make him unique at the shortstop position and allowed him to have a torrid end to last season.

Phillies fall short, lose 5-4

The Phillies' best chance to take control of the game came in the seventh inning. Trailing 4-2, they were handed a rally: Arizona reliever Kevin Ginkel walked David Dahl and Rafael Marchán in consecutive plate appearances, so the Diamondbacks brought in left-hander Joe Mantiply, who promptly walked Kyle Schwarber on four pitches -- loading the bases for Turner with one out. Turner legged out a run-scoring infield single after the ball was bobbled by Arizona second baseman Blaze Alexander, and the sellout crowd was deafening as Bryce Harper came to the plate.

On the first pitch of the at-bat, Harper poked a ground ball right back to Mantiply, who seamlessly started an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play. Just like that, all of the juice had been sucked out of the stadium.

Nick Castellanos hit a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth inning, but only after Seranthony DomĂ­nguez had allowed the Diamondbacks to score an insurance run on a run-scoring single from shortstop Geraldo Perdomo.

Ultimately, the Phillies' offense did not have enough to overcome Walker's poor start. Dating back to October of 2023, they have lost three consecutive home games to these Diamondbacks.

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