Taijuan Walker repeatedly asked Rob Thomson why he was pulled after five scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Sunday.
Politely, of course.
“I asked him three times, calmly, I asked him three times,” Walker said. “But the bullpen needed work and we won the game, that’s all that matters.”
Five days after shutting out the Tigers in seven innings, Walker had an equally impressive start as the Phillies wrapped up their homestand with a productive offensive day in a 7-3 victory.
Walker overcame a 26-pitch first inning and a labored third to pitch five scoreless frames against baseball’s most patient roster, the Dodgers.
He retired the last seven batters he faced relatively quickly, making it a curious decision for Thomson to draw him to 83 pitches. The Phillies obviously didn’t want Walker to face Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Max Muncy for the third time, even with a three-point lead.
“I thought I was on a cruise,” Walker said. “Everything was fine, my bike was really good. … I did my job and put it back in the bullpen to win the game and that’s what we did.”
In the dugout, Walker was visibly unhappy with the decision, shaking his head a few times. Kyle Schwarber walked up to chat with him at some point late in the fifth.
“It was third time, the pitch count was in the 80s and we were at Freeman, so I wanted to put him a southpaw,” Thomson said.
“He didn’t want to come out. He’s a competitor. He wasn’t happy to come out but that’s what makes him great. I just said that’s it, we’re going to the bullpen , and he just asked why. It’s OK. It’s fine.”
Gregory Soto, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado allowed isolated runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but the Phillies continued to veer off course and won another series in front of a crowd of 44,287.
The Phils went 5-1 on their home turf. They are 32-33 as they hit the road for four at Arizona and three at Oakland.
“Some of us may have noticed last month, we feel like when we score, they score, and responding back and forth wasn’t on our side,” Trea Turner said after a day three hits. “Today it was. We did a good job of getting the guys out and batting. Good team win.”
The Dodgers entered with the lowest chase rate in MLB. Walker had his greatest success this season by tricking the other team into expanding the strike zone. Earlier this week against Detroit, he threw 42 splitters, 28 of them out of the zone. The Tigers swung more than half of them.
The Dodgers, with Mookie Betts, Freeman, Smith, Muncy and JD Martinez, make you work. They don’t enlarge the area much. Still, Walker started his afternoon by hitting Betts and Freeman swinging on nasty splitters that fell out of the area.
“The one with Mookie, the check swing, I know the splitter works well when I can get a guy like him that doesn’t chase a lot,” Walker said. “I stuck with it. I threw a lot of splitters today, but it worked for us.”
Three of Walker’s five innings have been 1-2-3. He has a 1.93 ERA in his last five starts and the Phillies have won six of his last eight.
Facing a Dodgers opener for the second time in three days, the Phils scored in the first inning on three straight singles from Turner, Nick Castellanos and Bryce Harper.
They tackled two more with two outs in the third inning on a two-run single from Bryson Stott, who hit .345 with two outs and .248 with two strikes to lead the Phillies. He has six more hits than anyone else in the majors this season. He made great strides from Year 1 to Year 2 and is batting .292 overall in 2023.
“Since the second half of last year, he’s been going through these streaks where he’s wearing people down,” Thomson said of Stott. “He keeps fouling, having good sticks, seeing a lot of pitches, knowing the strike zone.”
Turner seems to be warming up. He hit a liner down the middle for a single on his first at bat and doubled his next time to score the Phillies’ first two runs. Later, he hit a sharp left single and scored again on Castellanos’ two-point shot. Turner’s hard-hit rate has increased dramatically every month this season, and his swing-and-miss rate has gone down every month.
“I feel good,” Turner said. “When I do something wrong, I know it immediately and I can fix it quickly. I hit the ball hard and find holes.
“I’ve been saying this for a while, when the mechanics are right you can let the ball travel a bit, you can make better decisions, hit the ball harder and use the whole court. Just a lot of positives when your swing is well. I found this little hiccup in there, fixed it, and it’s been going really well ever since.”
The Castellanos circuit was his eighth of the season, the same number he had until August 2 last year.
Backup receiver Garrett Stubbs also performed his second successful safety squeeze in the past month for another run.
Alec Bohm returned from the injured list and looked rusty, going 0-4 with three strikeouts. Kody Clemens got another nod at first base and continues to do well on almost every start. He deprived Muncy of extra bases with a sixth-inning diving stoppage that would otherwise have brought the tying run to home plate. In the bottom of the seventh, he hit Stott at home with two outs.
Now the Phillies are off to Arizona, where they’ve lost 12 of their last 15 games to Diamondbacks teams that were far below this 2023 release. Arizona leads the NL West 40-25, has won five straight and 11 out of 15.
The Phils are 19-11 at home but 13-22 on the road, second-worst in the National League behind the Rockies. The upcoming seven-game trip is their longest of the rest of the season.
“We’ve been playing well for a while now,” Thomson said. “Now we have to face a very good team and win on the road, that’s our next goal.”