No longer appearing to be tipping his pitches — or hearing whistles from the visiting dugout — Taijuan Walker delivered a bounce-back performance Friday night.
The only thing that left him bothered was an early hook, not what his opponent may or may not have been doing, in the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Phillies at Citi Field.
In his previous start, last Saturday against the Yankees, Walker was done in by a five-run second inning in which he gave up three home runs. After the third long ball, Jonathan Villar visited Walker on the mound to pass along that he believed Walker was tipping his pitches and the Yankees were using whistles to alert each other to those pitches, ESPN reported. Following Villar’s visit, Walker retired 13 straight.
The whistling allegations were the fodder for the back-and-forth in Sunday’s game, in which the benches cleared, but they were mostly put to bed in the following days as the Yankees pinned the whistling to Wandy Peralta trying to energize the dugout.
The controversy came back into the spotlight Friday, though, courtesy of a pregame segment on SNY. Analyst and ex-Met Todd Zeile broke down the whistling from that five-run inning, theorizing that short whistles meant fastballs and long whistles meant off-speed pitches. In some cases, though, the whistles were heard before catcher James McCann had even put down signs.
“It’s much ado about nothing,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Friday. “There’s nothing going on. I’m certain of that. When I see Todd, I’ll tell him so. I think the people in the know, know nothing was going on.”
Walker was coy on whether he had figured out he was tipping pitches.
“I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you,” he said with a grin. “I was focused on this start. It didn’t seem like they were on me.”
After Friday’s game, he was more focused on not having gotten a longer leash. He gave up a sacrifice fly in the second inning and a solo home run in the fifth, but was pinch-hit for leading off the bottom of the fifth after throwing 88 pitches.
“I really felt like they should have gave me a chance to go back out for the sixth,” said Walker, who scattered three hits and no walks over five innings. “It’s frustrating. I want to go out there and pitch and go as deep as possible.”
While Walker’s workload is worth monitoring — he climbed to 149 ²/₃ innings this season after throwing just 67 ¹/₃ innings over the past three years — manager Luis Rojas said he wanted lefty Aaron Loup to face Bryce Harper instead of letting Walker take a third turn through the order.
“He told us this in spring training that he’s tough to take out,” Rojas said. “When you take him out of the game, he is going to react and in that moment, he’ll let you know. I always respect that out of our guys.”
— Additional reporting by Ken Davidoff