Phillies Game Story

Walker still searching for splitter, Phils' offense goes quiet in loss to Orioles 

“I just think the splitter is missing,” Walker said after a 6-2 defeat Saturday at Oriole Park.

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BALTIMORE — The Phillies have played five games since their quickie London vacation. Which means once time around the rotation since they converted their dollars to Euros and back again. Which also means each starter has been to the mound once throwing to Garrett Stubbs or Rafael Marchán while All-Star J.T. Realmuto is recovering from right knee meniscus surgery.

And while that’s a small sample, the statistical difference before/after Realmuto’s injury is striking.

As the team flew home from the Continent, the rotation’s combined earned run average was 2.66. In the subsequent games at Fenway Park and Oriole Park, it’s 5.67. And while that number is undoubtedly skewed by an uncharacteristic stinker by Aaron Nola (8 ER in 3.2 IP against the Red Sox), it also includes strong outings by Zack Wheeler and Ranger Suárez.

The Phillies don’t miss many opportunities to tout Realmuto’s value behind the plate, not just defensively but in game-planning and running the staff. Still, Rob Thomson insisted he doesn’t think his absence accounts for that ugly number.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with not having J.T. back there,” the manager said. “I think it has more to do with being off schedule on account of the travel.”

He didn’t single out Nola, but Thomson could have pointed out that he was pitching with seven days rest when he was knocked about by the Red Sox.

Taijuan Walker’s turn came up Saturday and, in this discussion at least, it didn’t much move the needle.

The Phillies lost to the Orioles, 6-2, in another electric, playoff-atmosphere-type game. But that had as much to do with lack of offense as his pitching. Walker, understandably the flak-catcher among the starters based on his stats and his 4-year, $72 million contract, pitched into the sixth and allowed three runs against one of baseball’s most potent lineups. He took the loss. His earned run average is 5.33.

To oversimplify the situation, Walker has been at his best when his split-fingered fastball is working. In 2023 he threw it about a third of the time. This year he’s been throwing it less than 20 percent of the time and that trend continued against the Orioles.

“I didn’t really have a feel for it, and the curveball was working really well,” he said. “It kind of seemed like when I had two strikes the first couple innings they were looking for the splitter. But I feel like I’ve had most of my success because of my splitter, so I definitely want to get that back.”

Thomson was asked directly if Walker needs the splitter in order to be effective.

“He’ll figure it out. They work on it all the time,” he said.

A related issue is Walker’s velocity. It ticked down again against the Orioles, topping out at 92.4 miles an hour.

“We’re still working on that, too,” Thomson said. “I’d like to see a little more velocity and so would he. It makes his other pitchers a little more effective, but he’s working hard on it.”

Walker said he thinks he’s close to where he needs to be.

“I just think the splitter is missing,” he said. “All my other pitches have been really good. It’s just the splitter that I don’t usually give up a lot of damage on. I feel like right now I’m giving up a lot of hard hits when I throw it.

“It’s such a feel pitch. It can go away fast but it can come back fast, too. In the bullpen, it feels good. When I get into the game, for some reason, I’m leaving it up. It’s a pitch I have to find and I’m working on it.”

The Phillies jumped out to a 2-0 lead. The Orioles tied the score on a solo homer by rightfielder Anthony Santander in the fourth. After that, Walker retired six straight until Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn led off the sixth with singles to put runners on first and third. O’Hearn scored what proved to be the winning run on Santander’s sacrifice fly.

The Orioles iced the game in the eighth with three runs, including another homer by Santander, who ended the game with 4 RBI.

The Phillies have lost four of their last six. The good news is that, if Thomson’s right and the pitching has been inconsistent because the starters haven’t been working on regular rest, they’re now in a stretch during which they play 19 games in 20 days.

Castellanos’ streak comes to an end 

Rightfielder Nick Castellanos had played 414 straight errorless games in the outfield, the record for a National League position player, before being charged with a questionable E on a throw to home plate in the third inning. It was the second-longest such streak in MLB history, trailing only Robbie Grossman of the Texas Rangers.

Juicy finale on deck 

The series will end Sunday beginning at 1:35 p.m. with one of the elite pitching matchups of the season so far: Phillies RHP Wheeler (8-3, 2.16 ERA) vs. Orioles RHP Corbin Burnes (7-2, 2.08).

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